Made In Dagenham: A Laugh and A Kick All At Once

Made In Dagenham, about Ford women’s strike, is driven by laughs while also kicking your heart into gear.

Amidst a world where globalisation has led to cruel companies exploiting their workers and arguably women have more to fear in the workplace than ever before, it would be understandable to feel that a retrospective glance to the past wouldn’t offer a lot of solace or hope. Nevertheless, LUU Music Theatre Society’s production of ‘Made In Dagenham’ is a slice of punchy politics with a sweet-natured centre that will leave you swinging like its 1968.

Based on the 2010 film of the same name, inspired by the true events of the Ford women car workers’ strike where female went on strike for the same wage as the men, the audience follows Rita O’Grady (Rhiannon Howells), an everyday working mother who suddenly finds herself spearheading the protest, as she journeys through the harsh world of corporate greed, glass ceilings and revolution. Howells herself provides an exceptionally strong lead with the voice to match and handles the development of her character well as she blossoms from a timid, unsure factory to an assured, forthright working class hero armed to the teeth with sharp retorts and a steadfast spirit. Furthermore, when cracks begin to show in her marriage to Eddie (Lukas Evans-Jones), the raw emotions of stress, pressure and dejection presented by the pair are simply stunning and bring to focus the detrimental nature of patriarchal expectations from both men and women.

This aside, the balance of the serious scenes and comedy seemed to be achieved with ease which brought a much-needed merriment to a show that could easily be dragged down by bleak doom and gloom. The almost farcical chemistry between the feeble and foppish Harold Wilson (Joseph Callaghan) and the relentlessly resolute Barbara Castle (Tash Berg) – hilariously introduced throughout as “fiery, like her hair” – truly brought history to life to much uproarious laughter. However, the comedic standout of the night was certainly machinist and core strike member Beryl (Indeera Shankla), a bawdy and foul-mouthed fire-cracker who embodied the essence of Dagenham through and through. In fact, as all of the factory girls chose to portray their sass and salt-of-the-earth soul with more authenticity than contrived caricature, the story itself became about more than facts, figures and policies; the stark reality of the struggle of oppression became clearly defined in the wake of the humanity of these real and recognisable characters.

Image: LUU MT Society

What’s more, the aesthetic delight of the production cannot be ignored as kudos must go to the hair and make-up team for the impressive array of bouffant beehives and marvellous mini-dresses. Like a Mary Quant dreamscape, the visual styling added enormously to the vitality, verve and vigour that oozed from the stage.

Although the glossiness may stray from the realism of the actual strike, the cast can be rest-assured that the unwavering professionalism, slick direction and tight chorus work guaranteed a top-class performance. It seems both the Ford women and LUU’s Musical Theatre society have proven that when ordinary people come together, extraordinary things can be achieved.

Alex Gibbon

(Image courtesy of LUU Music Theatre Society)