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Made in Dagenham as presented by Portlaoise Musical Society



Made in Dagenham, as presented by Portlaoise Musical Society

Date of Adjudicated Performance: Thursday 23rd November, 2023. 



Straight out of the starting blocks, I’d have to say that the real star of this Portlaoise production of Made in Dagenham was the set. Well-painted, with a good industrial feel to it, it proved to be a brilliant technical achievement, with two excellent revolving pieces that provided so many different setting, with all the changes done out of sight of the audience. Given the limited space backstage, this was a mega-clever piece of engineering. There was also an impressive central rolling truck that moved in and out with two or three settings on it. Stage manager, Anthony Kirby deserves kudos not just for his design but also for the virtually invisible scene changes, guaranteeing an uninterrupted flow to the action.


Not that the set in any way detracted from any other aspect of the show, as indeed, Director, Art McGauran, did a really terrific job of moving his cast around the stage and employing every available piece of space. He gave strong attention to characterization throughout the cast, putting good emphasis on comedy but equally accentuating the more dramatic elements of the story. The time taken, not just with the set, but also with the other technical aspects of the show, resulted in a very strong balance throughout the production. The lighting plot was always atmospheric and well-focused on the action, and the sound throughout was well balanced with good, well-timed cueing.


Choreographer, Stephanie Browne achieved a minor miracle with many of her routines, with ever-changing patterns and loads of energy, without them ever looking over-crowded or restricted by the limited performance space. Most impressive in movement and tone were the power-numbers, Busy Women, Made in Dagenham, Everybody Out and Stand Up, where the steps and actions echoed the strong sentiments of the numbers, stressing that choreography is about so much more than just throwing steps together. This was a very fine body of work.

It was also most impressive that the Chorus were robust in their commitment to the strong work-ethic numbers and in their acting and reacting to the story. On top of that, their immense workload included putting energy and excellence into their vocals and into their strong dance routines, while also filling a myriad of cameo roles.


They must have been a pleasure for Musical Director, Mary-Rose McNally to prepare, so assured were they with their harmonies. She also led a well-balanced orchestra, who provided a very fine interpretation of the musical score, euphoric in the playing of the torch-song numbers and mellow and controlled in accompanying the more tender songs. Tempi throughout were always spot-on.


The central role of Rita O’Grady was played most convincingly by Aoife Digan, steadfast as a working mother, loyal as a loving wife and then overwhelmed by her sudden rise as an influencer and champion of women’s rights. At all times, she got the tone and the turmoil of her predicament just right, and all accompanied by a strong and secure vocal performance.


As her husband Eddie, Eoghan Fingleton captured the comedy and the sadness of a man’s man, unable to see past his mindset to appreciate the importance of his wife’s work. His performance of The Letter was, for me, the musical and possibly the dramatic high-point of

the show, delivered, as it was, with so much emotion and an incredibly passionate and tuneful voice. Thankfully, by shows end, he redeems himself and wins back the love of his life.


Their children, Aoife Cathcart as Sharon and Oliver Treacy as Graham, performed delightfully throughout.


Sharon McNamara gave an emotional performance as Connie Riley, forthright in her political convictions, yet fragile in her ability to advance the cause, and ultimately tender in her illness and in her regard for Monty, and determined to make her mark through Rita. This was a beautifully measured performance, with fine delivery of Same Old Story.


Helen Flynn as Beryl was exactly as she needed to be. Brash, abrasive, foul-mouthed, and hilariously inappropriate at all times. I’m sure she enjoyed the role as much as the audience enjoyed her performance.


Laoise O’Connell made a big impact as the ditzy Clare, giving a great delivery of the Wossname number, and maintaining her very funny character throughout the show. Kerry Carroll-Talbot was a spirited Cass and Ciara Finlay, a rebellious Sandra Beaumont, both adding strong presence and personality to the Factory Girls line-up. Andrew Docherty gave a performance of stature as the Women’s Rep, Monty, caught between his regard for his female workers and his need to kowtow to higher management. His exasperation was palpable, and the depth of his affection for Connie was most touching. Conor Harte impressed as the oft put upon floor manager, Barry, irritably responding to the teasing from the factory girls.


Rory Chadwick pitched his portrayal of PM, Harold Wilson, with just the right measure of tongue-in-cheek caricature, displaying very good comedic timing and nice delivery of his vocals.


Dawn Kavanagh took to the revolutionary character of Barbara Castle like a duck to water, strong and resilient, yet with a heart and a sense of humour. Her rendition of Ideal World was most impressive.


Alex Cathcart was as obnoxious and as shady as Donald Trump in his characterization of arrogant American boss, Mr Tooley. Patronizing in tone and nonchalant in appearance, his delivery made my skin crawl, which is a tribute to a well-realized portrayal of corporate greed.


Johnny Mulhare as Jeremy Hopkins, boss of the Dagenham Factory, created a cold, sterility about his presence, both towards his workers and his wife, which perfectly suited his somewhat insipid character, while his charmingly polite wife, Lisa, nicely played by Aoife Fingleton, was sincere in her support of the neglected women of the factory.


Padraig O’Flaherty as Ron Macer and JJ Tynan as Gregory Hubble, the middle-management of the factory, established good flippant, dismissive and male-chauvinist caricatures. Aidan McColgan could have been a tad cheesier as Cortina Man, but delivered his song very capably. A host of strong character cameo roles were filled by Paul Kenna, Dylan Kerry, Jamie O’Callaghan, Suzanne O’Connor, Claire Kelly and Hilary Treacy.


Aesthetically, the show benefitted from a good costume plot, mostly appropriately drab working-class clothing and overalls, but there were good splashes of colour employed to brighten things up when the opportunity arose, such as the Cortina routine and the rather awful (writing, not delivery) America number. There was good attention to wigs and hairstyles of the ladies and make-up was fine throughout.


Made in Dagenham, albeit a work of fiction, is very firmly rooted in the historical reality of a Ford machinists strike that ultimately led to the passing of the Equal Pay Act of 1970. The combination of that history with an affecting tale of family division and reunification works extremely well, and this production, by Portlaoise Musical Society, hit all the right notes,

musically, comically and dramatically. Special mention should also go to an industrious front of house team, whose impressive display included a wonderful Ford Cortina as its centerpiece. Thank you to the whole company for the hospitality, the entertainment and a most enjoyable night.


Peter Kennedy, Gilbert Adjudicator


Some photos kindly provided by the society. Photographer: Terry Conroy




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