“a testament to a seriously talented production team and cast”
As stated in the programme in Maddie Hurley’s Director’s Note, Hild Bede Theatre’s production of Made in Dagenham was directed, choreographed, and learned in its entirety in just over three weeks. To put this in perspective, there are twenty-one musical numbers in the show alongside dialogue scenes, dance sequences and countless other elements that combine into a musical, all in the space of about twenty-one days. To then go on to produce a show of this quality is a colossal achievement, and the entire cast and crew deserve enormous praise for the incredible amount of work that must have gone into creating such an excellent production.
Director Maddie Hurley and Assistant Director Niamh Kelliher’s creative choices paid off again and again throughout the show, and one example was immediately obvious in the choice of venue: the large, spacious warehouse aesthetic of Caedmon Hall served to be the perfect fit for a musical mostly set in a factory. However, the large stage, partially occupied by a wonderful band, never felt empty or underused. The Musical Directors, Freya Hartley and Josh Tarrier, deserve great credit for this as well as the tightness of the harmonies throughout the musical, with particular credit to Tarrier who did a phenomenal job standing to simultaneously play keys and flawlessly conduct the band throughout.
Fittingly, Made in Dagenham was uplifted by its stellar female cast. Particular standouts were Sarah Pierce as the hilariously posh Lisa, Theo Dowglass as the lovably inarticulate Clare, and Rachel Wilkinson as the filter-less Beryl. Large-cast musicals almost always result in multi-roling, and significant praise must be given to those who did here: the flexibility and versatility of these actors were highlights of the show. Elena Jennings-Mares and Cecily Morley were especially noteworthy in this regard, and played men to an exceptional degree of believability, delivering some of the funniest lines in the show with the most convincing accents in an on-the-whole mixed bag of varying English dialects. Oscar Scott as the Prime Minister was also a highlight: his whooping and diving voice was a delightful display of comic expressivity.
Nina Hayward, who played Rita, gave an excellent lead performance with an inspiring stage presence which grew throughout the show. This inspiration greatly enriched the show’s believability as the audience were swept along with her co-workers in her passion to fight for equal pay. The emotional core of the show was present in the dynamic between Rita and her husband Eddie, played by Harry Allderidge, who delivered, in my opinion, the most impressive male performance of the night. Whilst his largely sweet portrayal of Eddie perhaps dampened the friction that develops between the two, his emotional beats were gorgeously delivered alongside impressive vocals, hitting crystal clear high notes in “I’m Sorry, I Love You”. The sweetness of his character was likely a directorial choice, and the emotion he conveyed throughout the performance was deeply moving, particularly in the letter scene in the second act.
Phil Milne’s choreography achieved the challenging task of combining the very real characters of factory workers with theatrical dance sequences, and the result was subtle but greatly effective. Whilst there was an initial roughness to the performance in its opening scenes, namely an uncertainty in choreography and a lack of unity in the timings of vocals and music, the cast settled and grew in confidence quickly. However, this tends to be symptomatic of any show’s opening night.
One of the many aspects of the show that were handled well was the embracing of its own limitations. The tech, set and props were largely simplistic, but this was to its credit rather than its detraction: a particularly funny and self-aware example being an early scene involving a prop pigeon being thrown on stage. Stage Manager Ellen Olley deserves credit for this, and Tech Director Toby Watkinson also ran an impressively smooth operation considering it was the show’s first night, and acted quickly to balance some early sound problems.
Unfortunately, likely due to unavoidable circumstances, there was a lack of microphones, which resulted in some admirably delivered solo lines of song or dialogue being lost due to some actors not having mics. In other examples, it meant that group numbers were entirely dominated by the voices of one or two people. However, a distinction has to be made for Olivia Jones in the role of Barbara, whose phenomenal projection meant that her strong vocals were heard clear as day even without a microphone, which is no mean feat.
Despite some minor shortcomings which are usually down to opening night nerves, the cast and crew of Made in Dagenham overcame tremendous odds to create a show of such quality in such a short space of time: it is a testament to a seriously talented production team and cast.
By Ben Osland
Made in Dagenham is playing at Caedmon Hall until 5th March
Photo credits: HBT