On Saturday I went along to the Simpkins Lee Theatre to see a preview of Made in Dagenham which is being performed this week in Oxford. The musical looks at the story of the 1968 Ford sewing machinist factory in Dagenham where the women went on strike demanding equal pay. The three pieces that I got to see all brought a smile and had an effortless charm to them – it looks set to be a fantastic production.
The first number was ‘Woss name’, a fun and up-beat song light-heartedly laughing at one of the characters as she fails to find the right word for what she is trying to say. All the women sang together in the factory, exhibiting the strength of the ensemble’s harmonies with a warming element of solidarity. ‘I’m sorry I love you’ was a really touching song, and showcased the lead actor, Benjamin Ashton’s, beautiful vocals. It also had a brilliant comic element as a backing group of two other actors arrived, jokily supporting his declaration of love for Rita (Cat White) while snapping their fingers and mimicking a 60s boy band. The final piece I got to see was called ‘Always a Problem’ in which the Prime Minister discusses the problem of the economy. Again, light, humorous lines made the scene entertaining. Quantitative Easing provided a strong source of comedy – as “It had better bloody work cos there’s no Plan B”.
The three pieces that I got to see all brought a smile and had an effortless charm to them – it looks set to be a fantastic production.
Overall the cast seem very strong, albeit one or two colds that produced shaky vocals – something that will hopefully be sorted for opening night. I was impressed with the Dagenham accents that managed to stay believable even in song, and the good use of the space within the relatively limited theatre.
After the preview, I chatted to Joe Peden, the director and it is clear that he is very excited and enthused by the production. He also plays Harold Wilson in the show, performing with a real sense of gusto. We chatted about the musical element of the production and he underlined how it really suits the theme of picket fences – the chanting and sense of togetherness can be found through singing. However, despite the laughs and song, at the heart of his view of the play is a more serious message – Joe says he wants Made in Dagenham to “imbue the members of the audience with a sense of social purpose”, making us remember the importance of activism and standing together in difficult times. What with the recent Women’s Marches and political demonstrations that have been going on both within Oxford and across the globe, now more than ever seems the right time to go to a play which celebrates the success of political activism – the Ford strike was the trigger for the passing of the Equal Pay Act in 1970. For laughs, entertainment and a fresh look at politics, get your ticket now.
Made in Dagenham is on in the Simpkins Lee Theatre from the 22nd to the 25th of February.