Songs, dance and whole lot of sass, Shotgun Theatre’s production of Made in Dagenham was just what the doctor ordered. But, most importantly, what Shotgun Theatre produced proved it be so much more than just another musical. With Mr Trump firmly seated in the presidential office for the next 4 years, Shotgun’s production couldn’t have come at a better time, and I left the theatre with hope for a future, that at times can look rather bleak.
Based on real events, Made in Dagenham follows the story of the women machinists working at Ford’s Dagenham plant, whose 1968 strike paved the way for legislation on equal pay. The working women protested against the re-categorisation of their skilled grading level, which not only resulted in a decrease in their wages, but meant that they would receive exactly 15% less pay than the men who were on the same grade of skill. In 2017, nearly half a century later, the issues of equal pay and gender equality are still prevalent, and Rita O’ Grady’s question to the audience: “Do you want your daughters to grow up to become second class citizens?” could not be a more relevant today. The recent protest marches seen across the pond, right through to London, mark not only the importance of standing up for what is right, rather these protests demonstrate the power of solidarity that Shotgun’s Made in Dagenham resounds in: through its songs, in its direction, right through to the powerful, extraordinary, and never-ceasing enthusiasm of the cast’s performances. For directors Ella Nokes and Rosie Thomas, their spirit as a team was what made the performance what it was: “If we have learnt anything from directing this show, it is the power of sheer solidarity. We could not have done this without each other, and every member of our team.”
Shotgun’s production couldn’t have come at a better time
Huge credit must go to the entire creative and stage team, particularly producer Laura Aiton and directors Ella and Rosie, who brought the vision of working class Dagenham to life using a barely-there minimalistic set design. Innovative, quirky, and charming: it worked brilliantly, and brought a rawness to the production that allowed the audience to invest and share in the story, and the emotions and hardships that the characters’ faced, rather than be caught up in an overbearing spectacle.
That said, the power of the theatre was still very much alive throughout the show; the music was beautifully played by Shotgun’s very own house band, and the choreography by Natalie Bell was fun, bold and inventive. However, Made in Dagenham’s success as a production was also largely due to the performance of its cast; there were absolutely stellar performances among the entire cast, particularly quick-witted Beryl, played with an abundance of sass by Rosie Smedley, and the hilarious Claire, who had the audience in stitches throughout the performance, due much in credit to Alicia Pocock’s brilliant awareness of comic timing and unique character. I was especially stunned by the power of Westminster’s very own Ms Barbara Castle, played by Emily Johnson, who wowed the audience with her rendition of “Ideal World” with vocals that surely belong on the West-End stage. Stars of the show Anna Blackburn and Ben Jackson were stunning not only vocally, but both actors excelled in bringing a sincerity and authenticity to their performances as a working class family, who struggle to undergo the hardships of everyday life. The changing attitudes towards gender roles and what it means to be a man or woman were brought to life through both actors’ talent as performers. But for me, “Rit” stood out: fiery, determined and beautifully played, Rita O’Grady was one woman I certainly wouldn’t want to mess with. The performance also marked a first for the University’s theatre scene, as Shotgun Theatre became the very first company to have had children perform in their show; the O’Grady children were played with an enthusiastic air by Emily Rushworth and Finn Graves, both little professionals in the making.
“If we have learnt anything from directing this show, it is the power of sheer solidarity.”
Shotgun’s Made in Dagenham, showed the power of theatre to not only simply sing about change, but the ability to make it happen. Though the battle for gender equality still continues, and the fight to change attitudes towards gender roles still continue, the message of Made in Dagenham resounds today. Any fight for change, albeit small, is a great one; from a group of working class woman, came a catalyst for change that has made and marked history. And, as Mrs Hopkins tells Rita: “You’re not just doing it for the working class women, you’re doing it for all of us”. Simply put, Shotgun’s choice of production cannot be faulted; what I saw on stage was a student community who together, with overwhelming professionalism, brought to life the voices of these working class women, whose courage, whose voice to fight for change, sings more loudly than ever before.