News Reviews The David Beach Competition
Made in Dagenham
WODS Musical Theatre Company
The Blakehay Theatre
Saturday 4th November 2017
When WODS go for it, they really go for it! I love a new show and Richard Bean’s book with David Arnold’s music and Richard Thomas’s lyrics based on the 2010 film is just that (to me at least). WODS’ production, shoehorned neatly into the quirky Blakehay theatre was full of strong characters, great singing and expletives aplenty.
The production team: Director Lisa Smith, Co-Director Bev Tyrell, Choreographers Aaron Pengelly and Carrie Buck had, sensibly, taken a fairly straightforward approach with the production: A very large cast on a small stage would not allow for much else. Thus, staging was minimal but effective and dance routines were uncomplicated. Musically however Musical Director Annie Ford had really put the cast through their paces to deliver some very strong singing performances from principals and ensemble alike.
I liked the look of the show with its late sixties costume (despite a little undisguised discomfort at the length of the skirts from more than one of the ladies) and simple settings – the half a Cortina excepted! If I was a picky reviewer I might have had concerns about much of the footwear being far more 2017 than late nineteen sixties but, thankfully I am not…
Set transformations between scenes worked very well indeed. I am always pleased to see cast members moving furniture and set dressings in plain view, it adds so much to the smooth flow of a show, keeps the audience’s attention and maintains the show’s energy. Stage Manager Jonny Mathers and his team should be very pleased with their work, as should the set builders and designers.
This was my first exposure to Made in Dagenham and I’m not yet sure of it as a show: it has something of Billy Elliot about it, which I like but it felt over-long and for me at least, was lacking a little in depth and charm. It was very pleasing, therefore to see so many strong performances in WODS’ production, which lifted it considerably.
Tamar Hankinson played Rita O’Grady a sewing machinist at Ford Dagenham who leads a minor revolution that ultimately results in the 1970 Equal Pay Act. Tamar was natural and convincing as the diffident machinist and mum thrust into the limelight, her soaring vocals for the finale number reminding us of her undoubted talent. Her husband Eddie was played by Scott Riney who showed us a nice, natural singing voice: his The Letter was one of the more touching moments of the show.
Rita’s workmates, big characters all: Maria Hemming as the strong Cass, Holly Wadsworth as the fabulously ditsy Claire, Cath Back as the splendidly sweary Beryl, Kristina Lewis as the glamorous Sandra Beaumont and Becky Jackson as the tragic unionist Connie Riley all gave great individual characterisation and punch to their roles. Beryl had the best punch lines, delivered with great timing and effect but for me Holly stood out. This was not the first time I have seen this remarkable young woman shine – sing, dance, act: the full triple-threat. Her imminent departure for university will be a great loss for WODS (not, I hope a permanent one).
The show delivered a very unexpected duo: Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle played by Blair Ruddick and Laura James. The Wilson role appeared to be a Shakespearean comic relief character and Blair grasped it with both hands, undoubtedly playing it for laughs. Barbara Castle was expertly handled by Laura who cleverly, along with some excellent singing, managed to portray the dichotomy of the Castle’s dilemma: a labour party woman being required to stand against a feminist agenda.
It was good to see the versatile Dave Bailey stepping up to the mark as the unpleasant American Mr Tooley. A nicely judged performance: A ‘baddy’ in the best pantomime tradition just OTT enough. The audience’s well-natured ‘boo’ for his finale walkdown was testimony to Dave’s performance.
The huge Ensemble of factory workers, civil servants, children, managers et al, impressed, particularly with their singing. Harmony worked beautifully, timing was spot-on and in numbers like Viva Eastbourne, Storm Clouds and Stand Up the powerful sound was quite breathtaking. Well done all.
Lighting was fine, clear and simple – only one major cue missed but the other part of the technical side, Sound was not. There are clear challenges in siting the band remotely from the stage, not least the effect on the dynamics within the auditorium. These challenges were largely met but there was an unfortunate, distracting ‘mains hum’ through the PA throughout and an overriding lack of clarity from the amplified voices of the cast was a considerable issue for me. The lack of clarity meant that many, many subtleties were lost, if an audience member needs to ‘translate’ dialogue, straining to hear or understand then humour dies and impact is lost. Performers’ diction may contribute but it was such a shame that the polish of this show was so affected by the technical side of things.
Made In Dagenham was fun to watch. It was a show of some great individual performances and some remarkable singing I must confess, however to being a little puzzled by some of the Direction: some of the movement around the stage was, perhaps a little unnatural and pace felt rather unmanaged, but having said this, the cast looked to be having a great time, the energy of the finale was palpable and a standing ovation is a standing ovation, so: Job Done!
Thanks for inviting me