Set in 1968, Made In Dagenham is based on the true story of the female Ford factory employees who went on strike after being downgraded to unskilled workers and paid 15% less than the men in that category.

The story of these women, who were major instigators in the calling to arms for equal pay, is still one that is so relevant today.

Whether the producers had intended it or not, the musical arrived at The New Wolsey in Ipswich after its run at The Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch, at a time when gender equality is back in the news.

Only this weekend I read a headline in the ‘i’ newspaper that read ‘the gender pay gap will persist until 2069’ – if correct, that will be over 100 years since the musical is set. The rights these women were fighting for is an issue that needs readdressing, and the theatre is always a sign of the times.

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The fictional character of Rita O’Grady, played by Daniella Bowen, reveals the struggles of ‘60’s women not only for equal pay (of which the Equal Pay Act was finally introduced in 1970), but also for women to be respected as equal in the home.

We are introduced to our lead characters in a recognisable domestic situation, a mother getting the household ready for another day. The set is an industrial grey with a dirty hand basin in the corner, the starkness of the design a sign of the times for a working class family in ‘60’s Britain.

It was apparent from the first opening bars that the cast were incredibly talented. When they weren’t acting or singing, the cast were off to the side of the stage playing an instrument and becoming core members of the band.

Watching Rita go from a working mum, to being ensconced in the world of trade unions and strikes, is a journey that I found myself drawn into. You believe in the heartache of the characters, as much as you feel their joy, tragedy and convictions in their beliefs. Although full of upbeat melodies and catchy numbers, the performance touches on tough topics and does so with heart and thoughtful ballads. We feel the peaks and troughs of our main characters keenly, clapping along to the good times and perhaps even shedding a tear during the bad.

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There are many themes that make this imagining of Made In Dagenham up-to-date. Obviously the gender pay gap is still a prominent issue, but also when the American Ford factory boss, Mr Tooley, arrives from the US to make his demands upon the strikers, it is plain to see which Presidential candidate he has been modelled on!

All the cast were outstanding, and the sense of team spirit was palpable, but special mention must go to Daniella for handling the character of arch of Rita so endearingly and also to her on-stage husband, Alex Tomkins, who’s portrayal of Eddie O’Grady was part-‘lad,’ part-softy, with a beautiful voice that reminded me a little of John Travolta as Danny Zuko in Grease. Also Angela Bain’s hilarious performance as Beryl had my friend and I in stiches at her crudeness!

This musical is one that everyone can relate too – especially women. The way Rita is torn between her home life and her career is still an issue that weighs heavy in the hearts of many working mothers. The guilt of not spending as much time with your children and the contradicting pressure to seemingly ‘have it all’ will feel relatable to many in the audience.

And although we may not realise it, the cause that Rita becomes so passionate about is still very much alive today. As reported in the ‘i’ last week, even in female dominated industries, men still earn more. In the healthcare industry women earn 21% less than men, in education 11% less. These sense of unfair treatment and desire for change is riled up by the entire cast, and by the end of the performance you are truly behind the performers when they ask you to ‘stand up’ for equal pay for women, and it certainly made me reassess why we are still not achieving this, some 48 years later.

Made In Dagenham runs at The New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich between 21st September to 15th October. Click here to buy your tickets. 

Statistics courtesy of the ‘i News’.
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