A few weeks ago we were very kindly invited by East Ayrshire Youth Theatre to attend the Scottish Premiere of 'Made in Dagenham'.
We had spent the past few months working closely with their directors Michelle Laats and Michaella Mullen, as well as their Stage Manager Roger Robinson to come up with an exciting new set design for this show, so we were all incredibly excited to be able to go and see our set make it's debut up on the stage. I'm sure you would all agree that there is a big difference between how a set appears in daytime and how it appears when it is lit beautifully on a stage & surrounded by cast members in costume, so we were really looking forward to getting 'the full effect'!
It was also the first time that many of us would be seeing the musical, although by this point we all already had a fairly good understanding of the script & the soundtrack. My own experience so far had been to watch the film, and of course many of our staff members were alive when the real life strikes were happening at the Ford Dagenham plant in the 60's. Being only 24 years old it does seem a bit strange that in the future I could potentially be watching musicals based on today's current affairs, however who knows? Maybe 'EU Referendum - a Musical Extravaganza' might become the new 'Les Miserables'!
We were particularly excited to see how our brand new cream Ford Cortina car was received- and I had purposefully avoided seeing it 'in person' so that I could enjoy the full effect of seeing it on stage for the first time.
Franklin & Sloane was also just around the corner from the theatre too, so we were able to keep our car parked there and wander down with plenty of time to the Palace Theatre.
As we entered the auditorium we were greeted by our lovely cobalt blue Ford Dagenham gauze, and once we were settled into our seats the show started pretty swiftly, with the gauze lifting to reveal the suitably messy and chaotic family home of the O'Grady's. EAYT had provided some of their own stage dressings and every time the show returned to the O'Grady's home I felt it worked well. Washing was strewn everywhere, retro cereal packets were on the table and the combination of this and the cast helped really 'set the scene' for the busy family home it was meant to represent. A memorable 'mistake' that actually added a little something extra to a later scene was when a football being kicked around by the O'Grady's son (played by Andrew Maxwell) went a bit astray and ended up bouncing off his Father's head (Eddie O'Grady, played by Christopher Williams) - just as he was complaining about the chaos in the house. It earned a laugh from the audience and was a moment that, if it could be recreated would work incredibly well in the show.
From the moment the curtain went up, the whole cast threw themselves into their roles. They maintained a good energy throughout the whole production that was kicked off straight away with the first song 'Busy Woman' - a song that I'm sure resonated amongst many of the grandparents, parents and siblings that were sat watching in the audience. Leading busy lives & trying to pack everything into a day is definitely not something that has changed much since the 1960s!
We then swiftly moved on (huge congratulations to the stage crew for quickly pulling off the many scene changes!) to the Ford Dagenham plant itself, where we were treated to a very lively number 'Made in Dagenham', and got to know some more of the key figures in the production. Two cast members that instantly stood out to us were the sweary Beryl (excellently played by Abbie McLelland) and the jolly, but forgetful Clare - played by Eva Beattie, who had such a transformation to become her character that I could barely identify her from the cast list! Both actresses had a wonderful stage presence and played their characters exceptionally well. They were often the light relief to some of the heavier issues addressed in this musical, and they had a great sense of comic timing and brought their characters to life. The ladies at the Ford Dagenham plant were all incredibly likeable, and you definitely rooted for them - and felt irritated at the 'Dagenham Boys' and Management (B*****ds!) for trying to undermine them. When they were dismissed as unskilled workers I was grinding my teeth and near enough clenching my fists in the audience - by the time we got to the end of Act 1 finale of 'Everybody Out!' I probably would have been angrily brandishing placards along side them if someone had thrown one to me.
There seemed to be plenty of feisty women outside the factory as well, with both Barbara Castle (played by Zhara Wark) and Lisa Hopkins (played by Katie Cameron) doing their best to support the strikers. Both gave confident and believable performances - you sympathised with Lisa Hopkins being reduced to the role of housewife despite her double first at Oxford, just as you sympathised with Barbara Castle for being a woman in a political game that was dominated by men. I'm not sure how the real life relationship between Castle and PM Harold Wilson really was, but within the musical it was clear who wore the trousers.
Of course 'Made in Dagenham' isn't just about the girls, and Sean McCafferty gave an excellent, very comical interpretation of Harold Wilson. He stole most of the scenes that he was in with his excellent timing, and strong Yorkshire accent, and definitely got the most out of a very funny character. He attracted big laughs even when he was just performing a quick walk-on, and definitely went down as one of the shows favourites, deservedly receiving a huge round of applause at the end. Another stand out comedian was the previously mentioned Andrew Maxwell, who played a few different characters throughout the show but is credited mainly as both Graham O'Grady and the Cortina Man. I had been looking forward to the Cortina scene most of all, and we were all in absolute fits of laughter at Andrew's eerily convincing performance. He managed to absolutely nail the performance with his smooth 1960's lounge lizard moves and with his backup dolly girls swaying and pointing, the big reveal of our cream 1600E Ford Cortina was made very special, and very funny indeed. He also managed to steal the show with a very convincing performance of a drunk in 'I'm Sorry, I Love You' - a bit too convincing perhaps! Andrew is a very confident and talented performer and I'm sure we'll be seeing him playing lead roles on stage for years to come.
Of course we must also mention the two main male leads - Christopher Williams as Eddie O'Grady, and Ross Macfarlane as Monty. Christopher gave a very touching performance as Rita's supportive husband,and you rooted for Monty as his character is transformed from being a bit lazy and patronising at the start to a truly sympathetic character just trying to do the best for his girls. Both actors gave strong, self assured performances and were excellent foils to the strong, gutsy female characters such as Rita, Connie and Beryl.
I've made a point of not mentioning Rita yet as I felt she deserved a paragraph to herself. Rita is undoubtedly the lead and drive of the whole story, and any actress playing her would feel the pressure of carrying the whole show on her shoulders. Paige MGregor was an exceptional Rita O'Grady and delivered on all fronts - from the acting, to the singing and the general performance of the part. She was required to portray all different emotions and characters - from the gobby machinist having a laugh with her mates at work, to the worried mother, the tireless campaigner and loving wife to her husband, and she did so with ease. Rita accomplishes a lot in the show, but she is allowed to also be flawed and I think Paige helped to portray that vulnerable side just as well as the driven campaigner that the story revolves around. There is a huge amount of work for her to do throughout the show but she kept her energy up right until the end note - and then some, as witnessed by the energy the cast were still exhibiting as they were having their photos taken backstage! A huge well done has to go to Paige for her performance, she is obviously a very talented and experienced performer and I hope she continues to enjoy and participate in the performing arts.
As well as the main leads, the chorus and supporting roles also played a huge part in the success of the show. It was great to see younger members of the chorus stepping up, and each member had clearly put their all into the production. Being part of something like this requires a huge amount of dedication and commitment, and the cast would have had to balance this alongside school, homework, exams and other commitments and activities they do. I think that each cast member must have a certain drive that enables them to manage all this and applaud them for it - they did all this and put on a wonderful show that has been met with a huge amount of positivity and praise. I've seen many many different productions across the country, both youth groups and adults groups, professional and community theatre and I can honestly say that the standard of this production was incredibly high. Even with a smaller part, or if you're right at the back of the chorus it is very noticeable if you're not pulling your weight but the whole cast kept on smiling throughout the show, pulled off their choreography flawlessly and spoke clearly - even with thick Essex accents!
The whole cast and the technical crew behind East Ayrshire Youth Theatre's production need to be offered a big congratulations. Knowing the creative team behind the production I already had big expectations for this show, however they easily exceeded them and I am looking forward to the next time that I can go to see this musical, as well as whatever EAYT's next production will be! It was a joy to work with them over the past few months putting this show together and I hope they were as happy with our set as we were to see it up on stage.
I may be a little biased but I think our set design really stood out and enhanced the production. I loved the slatted flats used to create the Ford Dagenham plant, which were lit beautifully, and we had also painted some really lovely cloths showing the Houses of Parliament, and the Factory Gates, and we'd also put together some very nice adjustable set pieces to show the O'Grady's and Hopkins houses. I particularly loved the jazzy wallpaper used in the Hopkins living room - I can give you 3 guesses as to who picked it out. This was a tough show to design as it has a lot of very fast moving scene changes, and requires some quite hefty set pieces - the Cortina car and the sewing machines being an example. Audiences forget that many theatres don't have the luxury of endless backstage spaces but the backstage team did well organising it all, and we've received a lot of great feedback complimenting our set for this show.
All in all I thought this was a wonderful show, and effectively showcased the many talents the young people at East Ayrshire Youth Theatre have. They had a real professionalism around them and I think a lot of adult casts would struggle to reach a similar standard. The whole team had obviously worked incredibly hard over a few months and the result was a really stellar show that I would have happily seen multiple times. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they do next - and also see what some of the older members of the cast go on to do!
A huge well done to everyone involved.
A huge thanks and photo credits to East Ayrshire Youth Theatre & Lloyd Smith Photography.