Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Theatre review: Made in Dagenham the Musical - Adelphi Theatre, London - 4 stars

It's not often that I see musicals based on popular films - a lot of them are 'jukebox musicals', hitting the stage with a ready-made songbook, while others just seem to be an excuse to exhume a previously popular box office hit - step forward Ghost, Dirty Dancing, Sister Act, The Bodyguard, The Full Monty, etc. This one looked different - it was a musical version of a fairly recent movie which, while it did ok, hardly set the cinema tills ringing. So why exactly I did I decide to give Made in Dagenham a try? Let's take a look:

1. David Arnold - I love the James Bond composer's film work and having interviewed him a couple of times I've always found him to be great company and a man with a great grasp of music in all forms. At his recent concert he demo'd a song and I really liked it.

2. Richard Bean - As with so many others, I adored his One Man, Two Guv'nors, his hysterical comedy farce, and also enjoyed his satire Great Britain, which I caught at its original Billie Piper-led production at the National Theatre. 

3. Rupert Goold - A director who has never failed to impress with his bold direction and ability to find something new when you think there's nothing left to say. His RSC The Tempest and Chichester Festival Macbeth were my wake-up call to his work, and I've continued to be wowed by his RSC Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant of Venice. Most recently his musical production of American Psycho at the Almeida took my breath away - if you can turn THAT into a successful musical, you can surely perform some alchemy on ANY subject.

4. Gemma Arterton - Gemma has gone from St Trinian's poster girl in the franchise's reboot to Bond girl in Quantum of Solace, to immortal vampire in Byzantium. Elsewhere, bold choices like The Disappearance of Alice Creed and graphic novel adaptation Tamara Drew have shown great range. The less said about Hansel and Gretel the better, because her turn as the eponymous The Duchess of Malfi at Shakespeare's Globe proved beyond doubt that the lady had major stage presence.

So, enough of the justification for going, how was it? As the standing ovation and cheers at the end demonstrated, the crowd lapped it up and the titular anthem was being hummed as the audience descended the stairs from the Dress Circle. While I tend to steer clear from 'feel good' as a description - it's often faint praise - the show does take a significant political milestone (pay equality for women) and builds an uplifting journey from oppression to victory (that's not really a spoiler).  

The stage lights up whenever its star is in the spotlight, which is most of the time. Gemma belts out Richard Thomas' clever lyrics with a sassy verve and a clarity that lets you hear every word - you really want to spend time with this girl. She's ably supported by her fellow factory workers, who are each given their own USPs (sweaty, forgetful, dreamer, brassy blonde) to help differentiate their roles.

The kinetic, stylised set is great, with giant sheets of Airfix car parts swooping down and across from the wings and a giant clock face from the inside of Big Ben. Even a Cortina hits the stage in one of the highlights - a psychedelic car advert launch with Austin Powers-style dancers and dancing. Steve Furst has great fun as stereotype Yank Tooley in the Act II opener which extols the virtues of the USA while sneering why Blighty is so rubbish - it's Miss Saigon's 'American Dream' with even more attitude.

As with the Police Commissioner in his Great Britain, Richard Bean has added high comedy in the form of Mark Hadfield's Harold Wilson and Sophie-Louise Dann's Barbara Castle. Their moments (Wilson's in particular) are at some points in danger of pulling you out of the drama, so farcical are their nature, but if you just roll with it, much fun can be derived from these Spitting Image caricatures.

An earthy script (it never harmed Billy Elliott), a powerful onward momentum and the desire to entertain means that Made in Dagenham delivers the goods. Like most Fords, it's not the flashiest car on the road, but is reassuringly reliable and delivers a memorable journey. Get your ticket to ride now. 

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