imageIt’s a real shame that this didn’t seem to take. For while it’s not perfect, Made in Dagenham has great heart and integrity, some terrific storytelling, nice tunes and an anarchic attitude to history. Also it’s great to see a production led by a strong line-up of female characters with their narrative rooted in gritty reality and not in a fairy-tale world of witches and wizards (all right, I quietly like Wicked, but it is a bit silly). The Dagenham world starts with a woman getting breakfast on the table and the kids off to school while her husband lounges upstairs in bed; a world where the inequality of the workplace manifests itself in long-suffering acceptance, then angry incredulity, then triumphant protest; a world where the reality of a good night out is the insufferable bigotry of a ghastly chauvinistic comedian. Set amid the strike for equal pay at the Ford plant in the late sixties, the fashions, attitudes and politics of the period all come in for ridicule. Buffoonish Harold Wilson and flame-haired Barbara Castle are both subject to a satirical swipe or seven, even if the latter is a pragmatic part of the resolution. The very warm production often felt to me like something that Joan Littlewood might have produced: playful and populist, rooted in reality and with genuine moral and political debate at its centre. Gemma Arterton embodies the people’s heroine – the modest machinist who ends up being the voice of the women workers; she is heartfelt, beautiful, easily likeable and as committed the story as the woman she is portraying. Her brave confrontation with Castle brings roars of approval – MP’s expenses is a timeless theme. It also looks great, wittily set amid plastic Airfix car kits and in garish sixties fabrics. The rousing finales to both acts more than make up for a couple of moments that misfire, and it is rather amazing to end a big West End show with a rallying speech at a TUC conference – so much so that I was fully ready to stand up with Gemma. At time of writing it ends its London run in a couple of days and it’s definitely worth a quick trip down the Strand before it rolls off the production line.

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