Made in Dagenham

Jun 1 2023 | By More

★★★★★     Undisputed excellence

Brunton Theatre at Loretto School: Tues 30 May – Sat 3 June
Review by Martin Gray

An industrial dispute doesn’t sound the most promising material for a musical, but Made in Dagenham at The Brunton Theatre made my week.

Staged at Loretto School Theatre while the venerable venue is under repair, MAMA’s latest production tells the story of the 1968 Ford sewing machinists’ strike. What began as a grievance when the management decided the women who sew the car seats should be regraded as unskilled workers turns into a full-scale strike.

Rachel Allison as Rita in Made in Dagenham. Pic: Simon Wootton

The show revolves around seamstress Rita, who is co-opted to attend a meeting, finds her inner fire and becomes the face of the strike, leading the walkout, meeting with Labour legend Barbara Castle and finally persuading the TUC to adopt equal pay for women as policy.

Back home, though, Rita’s husband Eddie – one of 5000 men laid off the car production line by a hardline troubleshooter from Ford’s US parent – feels abandoned as his missus puts her energies into the fight. He takes their kids off to stay with his mother, testing Rita’s resolve.

It’s a great story, one brought brilliantly to life by the talented cast and production crew of Musselburgh Amateur Musical Association. It helps that the script by Richard Bean and lyrics by Richard Thomas manage to be both hilarious and poignant, hitting all the right emotional notes. As for the music, given it’s by five-times Bond composer David Arnold, you can bet it’s great.

first rate

Rachel Allison’s Rita grows before our eyes, realising that there’s nothing ‘only’ about being a working mum, and that there’s no good reason on God’s earth why her clever little girl shouldn’t grow up to be a doctor. Allison’s acting and singing are first rate, making Rita easy for the audience to latch on to as the heart of the show.

A scene from Made in Dagenham. Pic: Simon Wootton

As husband Eddie, Ross Fisher really comes into his own in the heartbreaking The Letter, when Rita finds he’s left her. A shout-out, too, to Daisy Dougan and Nathan Fisher as their kids Sharon and Graham, who bring believable mischief to proceedings.

Rita’s colleagues are a colourful bunch, with nothing quite so colourful as the language of strident Beryl – a splendid Sara Kenneway – which gets this show a parental advisory warning on the programme. Alex Arnott is union rep Connie, a woman of quiet strength and dignity, while Becky Duncan-Skelton has fun as the very silly Clare and Nicola Hamilton ensures Sandra is more than the stereotypical ‘dolly bird’.

quiet strength

John Haldane’s Monty, union man and Connie admirer, is a welcome addition to any scene, with Haldane making the most of perhaps the play’s most emotional speech. Keith Starsmeare is oodles of fun as factory manager Jeremy Hopkins, while Beth Revuelta brings a quiet strength to Mrs Hopkins, Lisa, who helps Rita see that equal pay isn’t a class issue.

Richard Tebbutt as Mr Tooley (Right) with Keith Starsmere (Mr Hopkins) and MAMA company in Made in Dagenham. Pic: Simon Wootton

The biggest character in the play is the repugnant, arrogant, sexist Ford US rep Mr Tooley, determined to break the strike even if he has to destroy families. Richard Tebbutt strides onto the stage at the start of Act Two’s rousing, hilarious This is America looking like a Country singer and acting like a serial killer. Tebbutt gives it large, but not so large as to destroy the illusion of reality.

Similarly, Duncan Whatmore manages to keep his Harold Wilson just the right side of panto, with a brilliant impersonation of the Labour Prime Minister that never fails to be uproarious. From his spotlight number Always a Problem on, the Gannex-obsessed PM is a delight.


Whatmore’s charisma is in overdrive, but a well-judged performance and the always steady direction of Charlotte Nicholson ensures Wilson doesn’t overwhelm. (Whatmore also contributes an outstanding bio beside his programme pic, seek it out!)

Duncan Whatmore as Harold Wilson in Made in Dagenham. Pic: Simon Wootton

The other real-life politician in the show is the legendary Barbara Castle, who always seemed larger than life anyway. Alison Henry does her justice, evoking her strident Northern England tone and impressing with her bittersweet ballad-cum-belter In an Ideal world.

The ladies and gentlemen of the ensemble are deservedly on equal pay (that would be naff all) as they’re uniformly great, switching hats as needed and doing justice to the clever choreography of Caroline Inglis. And the ladies don’t half look good in their Sixties fashion in the joyous Payday. The ensemble’s harmonies in the likes of Viva Eastbourne and the title number – which I’m still singing – were spot on. As for the climactic Stand Up, with the terrific staging to the sharp musicianship of Julie Durham’s six-piece band, I defy you not to stand up.

This production of Made in Dagenham does justice to the gritty women who changed the industrial landscape of the UK. And it’s Made in Musselburgh.

Running time: three hours (including one interval)
The Brunton at Loretto School Theatre, Mill Hill, Musselburgh
Wed 30 May – Sat 3 June 2023
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The MAMA cast perform the Union Song in Made in Dagenham. Pic: Simon Wootton

The MAMA cast perform Cortina in Made in Dagenham. Pic: Simon Wootton


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