A shaky start that led to a powerful conclusion.
Based on a true story, Made in Dagenham follows the life of the fictitious Rita O’Grady and her female colleagues as they protest against the inequality of pay between males and females during the late 1960s. The valiant efforts from these ladies’ in their worker’s strike leads to emotional turmoil, with respective parts of their lives crumbling around them in the aftermath. Despite the distressing nature of a lot of the content, Made in Dagenham attacks each topic with high energy and catchy songs while the Showstoppers’ performance tries its best to maintain a sense of intensity.
The ambitious tech required for this musical was not entirely achieved during its opening night. With moments of conversation lost amongst a cacophony of live music and vocals and the unpredictable temperament of the microphones, the show at times could be a struggle to follow with the fragmentation of story these issues caused. While this is an unavoidable occurrence in theatre sometimes, the lack of clear stylist characterisations to emphasise the point of what they were saying often left it past the capability of clearly interpreting meaning. There were also a few problems during group numbers with choreography as it often seemed too fast-paced in places and left a few people beats behind and others scrambling around as they tried to catch up.
However, Made in Dagenham was still littered with moments of pure joy and excellence. Entire cast numbers, especially those in the second half, were continually punched out and performed to a high degree, mostly in terms of vocal performance. “Storm Clouds” was beautifully performed, with the main group of women banding together and channeling the emotionally-fuelled number. The raw and choral vocals were matched well with tensed and passionate characterisation. Concluding the show was “Stand Up”, a bouncy song that was enjoyed thoroughly by the cast performing it and, in turn, the audience. This was an excellent end to the show and made the unfortunate start excusable. There were also notable solo performances by Elie Pembrey and Cydney Waite Brown in the songs “Same Old Story” and “Wossname”, respectively.
Lead by a strong and confident group of leading female actors, stand-out performances should also be duly noted. Easily the most charismatic and competent presence was that of Connie Amos’ Barbara Castle, with phenomenal powerhouse vocals and strong acting performance. Starring alongside her and breathing life into much of the show’s comedy was Adam Wilson’s Harold Wilson, who managed to muddle words and trip over cues while managing to quickly recover and never falter in his comedic touch. Similarly, strong vocal and acting performances came from Elliot Morris and George Gunn. However, the most unexpected but pleasant surprise was John Galbraith, bringing a level of enthusiasm to his small role and various ensemble parts that were refreshing and always garnering laughter from the crowd.
Marred by an uneven first act and many technical issues, Showstoppers’ Made in Dagenham proves than an excellent second half can sometimes be just enough to save a show from disaster. With acting often being generally good but an uneven competence in singing ability, the energetic conclusion leaves you coming away feeling more satisfied than disappointed, with the general consensus that it was an evening well spent.
But overall, Made in Dagenham was a relatively successful beginning Showstoppers’ first performance of the year with generally good direction, despite a perhaps overcrowded stage at times and garish outfits. It was clear that the cast and crew enjoyed themselves thoroughly even when suffering from first night nerves, and this strong start to the performing year makes us hopeful for their future performances.