Falkirk Operatic strike the right note with Made in Dagenham

Pictures: Michael Gillen
Pictures: Michael Gillen

It’s fitting that a production which highlights the fight for women’s rights should be graced by so many strong female performances.

Falkirk Operatic’s stars of Made in Dagenham brought an energy and verve to the stage at Tuesday’s opening night.

From curtain up to the final beat of the music, the cast put their heart and soul into this fast-moving production which takes a piece of history and, with a little bit of dramatic licence, turns it into musical theatre.

The show, which runs at Falkirk Town Hall till Saturday, is based on the true story of the Ford car manufacturing plant in Dagenham in 1968 and the 187 women machinists who go on strike, originally to be classed as skilled workers and then for equal pay.

Their actions led to the creation of the Equal Pay Act 1970, with similar legislation quickly following in the majority of industrial countries across the world.

Based on the true story, this musical features the fictional character of Rita O’Grady, a working mum who becomes the strike’s unofficial leader.

Victoria Daley brings a strong musical voice and stage presence to this starring role, ably portraying Rita’s struggle with being a wife and mother, as well as 
 speaking up for her workmates.

When she tells someone that she isn’t a “Marxist or Leninist, she’s a machinist” it sums up how she sees herself.

However, perhaps more telling was the line: “It’s not about the money, it’s all about the respect.”

She is supported by her fellow machinists, a fabulous Lorna Wallace, as the foul-mouthed Beryl; Julia Shaw as dippy Clare; and Nikki Johnstone as the voluptuous Sandra.

Carol Sutherland as shop steward Connie, also gives a strong performance tinged with pathos as the woman who doesn’t find love but even on her death bed is writing a speech for Rita to deliver to the TUC.

However, Susan McFarlane as the Minister for Transport Barbara Castle almost steals the show. She brings just the right mix of comedy and seriousness to the role, as the woman who faces similar challenges as the Dagenham women, albeit at a different level.

Grant-Scott Johnson portray’s Rita’s husband Eddie who seems bemused that his wife is involved in union business rather than getting his tea on the table and ironing his shirt.

While Allan Brisbane gave the audience a comic, almost bumbling Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

Director/choreographer Judy Brown has to be congratulated on some slick dance routines, particularly the two involving Cortina Man (Chris Hogg) and the Ford US executive Mr Tooley, played by Ray O’Sullivan.

Apart from the title song, Made in Dagenham, many of the numbers will only be known to avid fans of the show but with the help of musical director Jon-Luke Kirton the Falkirk Operatic cast put their heart and soul into all the peformances.

Particular highlights were Eddie’s The Letter, Barbara Castle’s Ideal World and Connie’s Same Old Story – with a special mention to Julia Shaw (Clare) for the hilarious Wossname, which was delivered by her and the rest of the women with perfect timing.

Rita put an infectious enthusiasm into all her musical moments with Everybody Out and Stand Up the most noteworthy.

This may be a fictional glimpse at a piece of real history but it certainly gave the audience a taste of how society was so very different 50 years ago.