Gemma Arterton shines in this plucky new musical about a sewing machinists strike in 1968.
Much like the epithet ‘the best David Bowie album since “Scary Monsters”,’ describing a show as ‘the best British musical since “Matilda”’ is becoming one of those platitudes that sounds a bit less enthusiastic every time it’s trotted out.
Nonetheless: ‘Made in Dagenham’ is the best British musical since ‘Matilda’, a funny, messy, surprisingly idiosyncratic movie adaptation that’s powered by a lot of heart, a lot of jokes, a fair few clichés and a fantastic performance from screen star Gemma Arterton.
That said, your love of Rupert Goold’s production is likely to hinge less on Arterton’s sweet, sassy, self-doubting Rita – reluctant leader of the 1968 sewing machinists strike at the Ford plant in Dagenham – and more on Mark Hadfield’s unabashedly broad portrayal of Labour PM Harold Wilson.
Barely present in the film, here the ludicrous, ineffectual Wilson represents the acme of the anarchic humour that playwright Richard Bean has injected into his very free adaptation of the 2010 film. It's very silly, and wryly nostalgia for Old Labour and the foibles of the Britain that 58-year-old Bean grew up in – the ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ writer has unmistakably imposed himself on the show.
It’ll be up to you whether you think the Bean-sourced silliness compliments, undermines or makes up for the more conventional main story of Rita and her colleagues, who strike for equal pay after Ford downgrades its female machinists to ‘unskilled’. Clichés abound: sassy Essex ‘girls’ with lovably incompetent husbands; deep-and-meaningful conversations on park benches; a key character who dies of cancer; a believe-in-yourself-and-you-can-do-anything feminism lite message. Earnestness isn’t Bean or lyricist Richard Thomas’s forte, and they often handle it clunkily.
But if you’re onboard with the jokes, there are easily enough to see you through even the most po-faced sections. And if you’re not into the gags, well there’s still the fabulous Arterton: she lights up the stage in a very un-Hollywood way, poised but modest with an in-the-moment vulnerability and lovely, quavery singing voice. It’s not a showy performance, but it’s an impressive, impassioned one, and certainly proves once and for all that she’s no lightweight.
For me, ‘Made in Dagenham’s mix of lumbering big-heartedness and wild facetiousness worked better than it had any right to do. It’s true that David Arnold and Richard Thomas’s peppy pop/soul numbers songs could be catchier – though a noble exception goes to wonderful first half opener ‘This is America’, a psychotically OTT stab of self-aggrandising pomp rock delivered magnificently by Steve Furst’s bastard US factory boss. But the songs are all at least pleasant, Goold’s production is stylish and zippy, and there’s a wonderful Airfix-style set from Bunny Christie.
My head tells me there’ll be a new best British musical since ‘Matilda’ along in a year or two; my heart doesn’t really care – its still enjoying the afterglow of this wonky gem, unabashedly made in London.
Average User Rating
4.2 / 5
- 5 star:14
- 4 star:2
- 3 star:2
- 2 star:1
- 1 star:2
You must go and see this show! Everything about it was exceptional - the singing, the music, the set, the costumes and it's a true story of great importance. If that wasn't enough it is hilarious at times and the magnificent ending brings tears to your eyes. (There is some swearing and sexual references but the subject matter would tell you it's an adults show). Buy your tickets now. A standing ovation at a Wednesday afternoon matinee must mean I was not the only one who thought it was FABULOUS.
Like the previous reviewer "You must go and see this show!" This was such an entertaining show. The music was great and the story was beautiful and funny. I could have sat there for another 2 hours.
So sad that this show is closing. Great fun and toe tapping songs! Especially like the America song.
And yes - not suitable for families!
Warning - not suitable for families! This should carry an adults-only warning - first 10 minutes full of the f-word and sexual references. Had to walk out with my children and no compensation or even contact from the theatre received! Very disappointed.
What a fantastic show. So much better than I had expected. A really funny, laugh out loud script, a great score and genuinely believable character acting. Loved it.
Fantastic uplifting energetic fun. I know its a great story and one that effects us all, but I never expected the musical to be so funny!! Catchy tunes and lots of laugh out loud lyrics, whats not to like? Go see it, you won't regret it!
Saw this last night with sisters and friends. My sister's second time. I would go again. Very funny and thought provoking. Just amazing. Men still earn more than women though!!
Saw this last night. Highly recommend. The prime minister is hilarious
Very important story.
Will run forever in the west end.
Absolutely fantastic! What an atmosphere! The best musical in the west end! First act is so funny. The prime minister hilarious!
Have to go back.
LOVED this. Gemma Arterton - what a star! (I mean she is a bond girl)
Great tunes, great story, female emancipation.
Loved the American song too!
Did not expect it to be that good ! Brilliant.....Loved the 'American piece' after the intermission, worth it just for that !
I enjoyed this - A LOT! Amazing set and storyline, great acting and singing, and just a lot of fun. All in all a great night, definitely worth seeing!
Really enjoyed this - feel good, fun music and Gemma Arterton is excellent. I agree with the comments below to an extent, but believe it's worth more than 1 or 2 stars.
Massively disappointing. For a show that is supposed to be about overcoming prejudice it is full of racial and sexist stereotypes, not just women but gays and americans. The characterisation of Wilson as a bumbling idiot completely undermines the struggle these women had to undergo to take on the British Government and a global company. The songs are cheesy, crass and forgettable. Watch the film instead.
So, MiD is not without charm, the songs have proper tunes with lyrics you can understand, and at times it can even be genuinely funny!
But oh my god does it lay on the sentiment thick. It's like a freakin' OXO commercial on stage.
MUMS! WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT THEM?!
MEN! A BIT USELESS AIN'T THEY, BUT THEY MEAN WELL!
WORKING CLASS PRIDE, YEAH?
AND WHAT DO GIRLS LOVE? SHOES AND THAT!
It was all way too saccharine for me. I bet some people will like it though.