Arguably, not since Sister Act has there been a musical that is dominated by and showcases the best of female talent that the West End has to offer. Made in Dagenham brings a unique yet strong sense of feminism, but how will audiences react to this?
Gemma Arterton leads a fine cast as they reenact the true-life events of the strikes for equal pay for British women in 1968. Immediately, we get a sense of divide between the male and female ensembles, with the latter being the much stronger and are at the forefront of the show. Each individual member of the team of female workers stands out as a strong singer, and each characterize their role well enough that allows us to remember each one of them as we leave the theatre. Special mentions go out to Sophie Stanton as Beryl, the feisty foul-mouthed character who provides the real comedy of the show, and Sophie Issacs as Sandra, who’s stellar voice is surely capable of leading a musical in years to come.
Despite being in her first musical, Gemma Arterton is truly the star of the show. This isn’t because she’s ‘Gemma Arterton’, nor it is because she is the leading lady. From the very start, her posture and presence provokes a sense of pride within herself as a woman. She equally displays tenacity and grit in trying to gain equal pay whilst showing real motherly warmth towards her children brilliantly.
The songs, composed by David Arnold, balance out the spirit of the strikes with comedy. This is shown in songs such as ‘Everybody Out’, recently performed on ‘Sunday Night at the Palladium’. Arnold spreads the solos out between each of the female workers, leading towards a rousing chorus with everyone singing together as they strive for equality in society. This truly gives you goosebumps. The songs stand for themselves and need very little movement besides slow choral marching, with this being choreographed successfully by Aletta Collins. The simple movement blended with these strong, loud vocals gained a huge reaction from the audience, where I could see women looking and smiling at each other with pride, whilst giving standing ovations in between songs.
Can Made in Dagenham, a story about strikes in working-class Britain, receive as much acclaim and international success as, say, Billy Elliot has? I wish, but I honestly doubt. Nonetheless, I admire the heroes in this show to be women. There are few musicals currently running where the story and talent is driven by a female ensemble. With it’s unique and definitive emphasis on gender, strong performances from both the leads and ensemble, and catchy yet thought-provoking songs, may this show stand the test of time and make audiences stop and think about our society, just as we did nearly 50 years ago…
Reviewed by Barry O’Reilly
Made In Dagenham is booking until 28 March 2015