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Theatre Review: Made in Dagenham @ University of Birmingham

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With the rise of #MeToo and 2018 marking 100 years since women partially gained the vote, Made in Dagenham is a smart and timely choice for a university theatre production. Although most students will be able to see behind its schmaltz, this is the perfect musical to motivate an audience – more politically engaged than ever –  to stand up and fight for gender equality.  

Photos © Esther Clemmey from Clemmography

Dagenham tells the story of a group of women working in a car factory, who decide to strike after their pay grade is dropped to ‘unskilled.’ Quickly, the plot turns into a fight for equal pay, with Rita leading her team of workers from Eastbourne to the corrupted Union that is failing to represent them.

Following the critically-acclaimed 2010 feature film, the musical production of Made in Dagenham opened in 2014 to mixed reviews. Whilst some of the textual issues remain, in many respects the production succeeds where the original run failed.

Gemma Arterton was criticised for her inconsistent performance as the protagonist in 2014, but here Lucy Robinson is an absolute marvel. She masters the script’s shifting keys effortlessly, capturing the quintessential ‘working-class charm’ that was so essential to the film’s success, whilst also doing justice to the play’s darker elements. With credits including The Crown under her belt, she is no doubt a star in the making.

In fact, the entire cast is incredibly strong. Since the roles require such thick accents, any other student production could’ve struggled to bring out each character's distinctive voice, but these actors manage to maintain their individuality throughout. They sustain a perfect balance between comedy and drama for the most part, with only the final few moments being delivered with too many spoons full of sugar.

The sets and costumes are kept simple, but this works to the play’s advantage: the 60s aesthetic is clear without resorting to cliché, and the stairs allow for some imaginative staging. The dancers also deliver big, bright bursts of energy at perfect intervals, just as the plot begins to sag.

2018 is the 30th anniversary of the formation of the University of Birmingham’s musical theatre group (GMTG). Their most recent productions (American Idiot, Into the Woods) have done justice to their inspired choices, but this is undoubtedly their best show yet. A refreshingly simple script, stellar performances, and buckets of charm make this production an absolute triumph.

Made in Dagenham depicts a monumental event in women’s rights – and reminds us just how far we’ve yet to go.




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