first night

Made in Dagenham

Becky Brookes heads to a 1960s Ford factory as Feather Theatre Company present their annual musical.

Following their success with Parade last year, I was incredibly excited to see Feather Theatre Company back in The Assembly Rooms Theatre with their annual musical. Made in Dagenham tells the story of the female workers of the Ford factory in Dagenham, in their campaign for women’s rights and equal treatment in the workplace, and follows their struggles to have their voices heard.  And despite some first night teething issues, FTC have succeeded in putting together a fun, light-hearted show.

From the get-go, the orchestra, led flamboyantly by Hugo Jennings, set the standard incredibly high, with a tight, polished sound, which they upheld for the entirety of the performance. I was also impressed with the female ensemble of the show, who carried the performance throughout. From the opening number, the harmonies of the girls in the show were well executed and they truly embodied the sense of unity of the factory workers fighting for equal pay. While the vocal quality of the male ensemble was much less consistent than that of their female counterparts, it was nice to see the boys getting into the dance numbers, quite clearly enjoying themselves. A few rogue vocal entries occasionally dampened moments where the ensemble sang as a whole, but otherwise the vocal performances and harmonies were strong, and the music team of Jennings and assistant Ross Norman should be commended for this. Annabel Allen’s simple but effective choreography added to the performance, although at times dance numbers could have been more polished.

Unfortunately, the production was let down by technical issues. Lighting, in particular, was erratic, with the house lights being raised during the show multiple times, which entirely interrupted the performance, and caused some transitions to feel stunted and awkward. I was mostly impressed with the balance between the band and cast in musical numbers, with only occasional solo singing lines being lost. It was, however, in the spoken dialogue that the microphones were more inconsistent. This, combined with the visible microphone wires and packs on stage, made it hard to focus on the story and the action. I have absolute faith that technical issues will be resolved for the remaining performances, and I believe this will help the cast relax into the performance a bit more.

My main criticism of the performance comes with the handling of some of the more emotional scenes of the show. There was occasionally a slight tendency to underact, leaving these potentially poignant moments feeling a little awkward and out of place. In addition to this, the excessive use of blackouts meant that the audience jumped from scene to scene with little flow, leaving the plot feeling a little stunted at times. Too often, dialogue seemed to stop suddenly, and the audience were plummeted into darkness, as prolonged scene changes took place. While I understand the need for scene changes and transitions, I feel this really affected the pace of the show as a whole. However, other elements of Joanna Boyle’s artistic vision worked really well—the car scene being a highlight—and she should be incredibly proud of her directorial debut.

The majority of performances from the cast were enjoyable, and prompted lots of laughs from the audience. Jake Goldman and Issy Richardson (as Tooley and Beryl respectively) brought a lot of energy to every scene they were in, and captured the humorous elements of the dialogue. Special mention should also go to scene-stealer Mary Lord, for her solo at the end of ‘Everybody Out’, and her hilarious reactions to the action in the spotlight! It was nice to see lots of new talent on the stage, and the two leads were no exception to this. Jamie Blackwell commanded the stage with his powerful voice and his laddish characterisation. His solo song in the second act was my favourite song in the show, and I look forward to seeing what else he will do in Durham. I would say, however, that he has a tendency to overuse his hands when singing, making him sometimes seem a little frantic, contradicting his otherwise calm and collective portrayal of Eddie. He was well matched on stage by leading lady Hannah Ambrose, whose beautiful crystal clear voice soared above the music. At times, her voice felt a little too classical for my personal preference, but overall, her vocal performance was controlled and consistent, and there is no doubt of this girl’s ability to sing. However, for me, the standout performance of the evening came from Carys Roberts as the straight-laced Barbara. Roberts has an incredibly powerful voice, and she handled her songs with ease.

Overall, I found Made in Dagenham to be refreshingly honest, surprisingly relevant and full of catchy tunes I couldn’t help but sing on the way out. If you haven’t already booked to see this show, I’d recommend getting a ticket, as you wouldn’t want to miss out on this production.

24 February 2017

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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