REVIEW: Made in Dagenham, SMTC at Stratford Play House
Peter Buckroyd reviews Made in Dagenham, Stratford Musical Theatre Company, Stratford Play House, 16th November
Made in Dagenham was an extremely well-directed (by Richard Sandle-Keynes) and energetic show. Saturday’s performance was preceded by the presentation of NODA District 5 Award to the company for last year’s Best Youth Musical production of Les Misérables.
Made in Dagenham was by the adult company. It was a real ensemble production with a large cast playing multiple roles without a single weak link where everyone showed complete concentration and commitment so that the show proceeded at a cracking pace. It was an excellent choice for an amateur musical theatre company which traditionally attracts more women than men. It was also a choice with some important historical and contemporary issues: equal pay for men and women; changing gender roles; the exploitation of the workforce by foreign owned (in this case American) companies; the difficulties of being a principled politician in a cynical atmosphere – in this case Barbara Castle, now Jeremy Corbyn: all important in next month’s general election.
The power of women and the arrogant limitations of men were imaginatively shown by the dance routines.
The set was excellent, perfect for the play in the three quarters with blocks and chairs moved by the performers slickly, ensuring continuity as one scene moved into another. There were lots of costume changes, all effective, some glitzy, many of which had to be done very swiftly. That gave visual variety and constant stimulus.
The success of the production lay in the strength of the ensemble playing but it would be perverse not to mention some fine performances. Karen Welsh was excellent vocally and physically as Rita. So was Jo Peterson as Connie whose political engagement and physical vulnerability were evident from the beginning and beautifully sustained. Judi Walton did Barbara Castle full justice, not least in her unusually unmiked solo towards the end which brought a new and welcome tonality to the whole work. Toby Newton was also good to watch in all his small roles.
It’s hard for a company to work in an unfamiliar non-theatre space. It’s even harder to create a production dependent on the technology of microphones. These were not always picked up by the sound system. There were blemishes and inconsistencies in the amplification but these paled into insignificance because of Julie Bedlow-Howard’s excellent blocking and choreography and the splendid spirited playing of the band under the direction of Maddy Evans.
For old people like me who remember these events there was a certain nostalgia created in part by the expertly chosen costumes but there remained the question of whether we have in any way progressed since the 1960s.