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Made in Dagenham as presented by St. Mary's MS Navan

Made in Dagenham as presented by St. Mary’s Musical Society, Navan: 

Thursday 25th April 2024. 

Striking a blow for feminism, “Made in Dagenham” demonstrates the power of women when they take it upon themselves to insist upon equal treatment in the workplace, and eventually parity of payment. It does so through the ladies of the Ford Dagenham factory of the 1970’s and ’80, and in particular, through the central character, Rita O’Grady, who becomes the voice of the working women, and reluctantly assumes the mantle of heroine, even at the risk of losing her family in the process. While it may sound like a grim scenario, the show succeeds because it is written with wit and wisdom, an array of amusing characters and a smattering of very good musical numbers, and in the hands of a very experienced director, in this case, Pat McElwain, it has so much good humour and entertainment value to balance with the more dramatic elements of the story. 

Not surprisingly, the story requires a woman of stature to carry the central role of Rita, and in Jenny McCabe, such a woman was found. Hers was a performance of strong dramatic quality, very good comedic ability and timing, and a wonderfully confident voice that gave power and punch to her lyrics and emotional tenderness when it was required. This was a very lovely performance from a most capable actress. 

As her husband, Eddie, Ronan Walsh gave a strong and very likeable performance, with great delivery of his lines. He fitted in nicely with the brash, boys’ club attitudes of his workmates, but never lost sight of his caring family responsibilities. His “Letter” was very emotionally delivered, but I did think his return to Rita at the end needed to be slightly more humbling and apologetic. 

Their children, Graham and Sharon O’Grady, were played with great sincerity by the talented Nick Donnelly and Rebecca Murphy, both of whom made a strong and natural impact in the family scenes. 

In the factory setting, Rita was surrounded by a varied assortment of workmates, from the industrious and striving activist, Connie Reilly, played with passion and sentiment by Suzan McDonagh, (particularly affecting in her ‘illness’ scenes), to the outrageously verbose Beryl, with a mouth like a fishwife and an intimidating demeanour. This was a strongly created comedic character, very well played by Deirdre Murphy. 

Nicole Smyth was a feisty Sandra, self-absorbed, but ultimately true to her sisters, and performed with good energy and character. 

Katie Crosby gave a good confused and befuddled character to Clare, performing her “Wossname” number with good comedy. 

Sheena Duffy gave confidence, attitude and character to the role of Cass. 

Eddie was equally well-supported in his workplace by cocky and confident performances from Adam Pentony as Sid, Shane Fox as Bill, Patrick Mullaney as Barry and Brandon Grey as Stan. As a group, these guys were strong and stubborn and very capable both physically and vocally. 

The management of the Ford Factory was well represented by Sean Flanagan, who had a good smug superiority as Mr. Hopkins, until he withered under the superior smugness of his American Boss, Mr. Tooley, very well played with patronizing arrogance by Barry Murray. His “This is America” was crass and patriotic to the point of being delightfully obnoxious.

David Grey was a convincing Gregory Hubble and Alex Hill a very able Mr. Buckton. Bridging the gap between the management and the workers was the delightful yet confused rep, Monty, beautifully played by Andrew Docherty, who showed his exasperation most believably and was most affecting in the sincerity of his emotions for Connie. This was a wonderful performance. 

In the Governmental roles, Mary Murphy, though small in stature, was larger than life as the strident and revolutionary political figure, Barbara Castle. This was very well-played and “Ideal World” made us sit up and pay attention. Alongside her, Tony Byrne had a lot of fun sending up the character and personality of former Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, and made the most of “Always a Problem”. 

Rí Fox gave a nice, posh but passionate portrayal of Lisa Hopkins, putting her husband in his place and adding her support to the women’s struggle. 

There were strong cameo performances too, from Shane Fox (again) as the very funny but tasteless comedian, Chubby Chuff, and Ciarán Dunne as the pseudo-smooth Cortina Man, who also doubled, alongside Seán Fitzsimons, as the Parliamentary Aides. 

I’m quite sure Director, Pat McElwain, was more than pleased with the contribution of the Chorus to the overall success of the show, for they were strong in their physical presence and very controlled and capable in their vocal presentation. Indeed, musically, the show was strong and secure, with Musical Director, Roisin Heenan, taking the baton to lead an enthusiastic and talented orchestra, who never faltered in their rhythms and tempi. Along with Chorus Mistress, Helen McHugh, they also presented a fine display of vocal quality from a well-drilled chorus, who were precise with their diction and true with their harmonies. Great work also went into the vocal work of that impressive principal line. 

Likewise, Choreographer, Laura Douglas, must have been pleased with the standard of dancing from her enthusiastic charges. The “This is America” routine was the best example of good military precision, strong patterns and loads of energy from both the soldiers and the cheerleaders, but there were effective routines too for “Cortina”, “Viva Eastbourne” and lots of good work on the three opening numbers, where the men and women of Dagenham establish themselves. 

The show was played against a very good set. It was well-painted, with a good industrial feel to it, with two excellent revolving pieces that provided so many different settings, with all the changes done out of sight of the audience. There was also an impressive central rolling truck that moved in and out with two or three settings on it. Stage managers, Tracy Fitzsimons and 

Chris Murphy, did a great job of guaranteeing a smooth-running show, with very few interruptions. 

The show was delightfully lit, making use of good colours to create atmosphere, good, isolated areas and efficient cueing. The same could be said for the quality of sound, which was consistently balanced and spot-on with the cueing. Props, throughout were appropriate and well-sourced, and with the exception of a “new” Ford Cortina which looked as if it had seen better days, the show was most satisfactory from a visual point of view. Costumes were always appropriate, and I particularly liked the fusion of the military outfits and the cheer-

leader outfits for the “America” number. Make-up was most satisfactory, and there was very good attention to wigs and hairstyles. 

Overall, this was a very well-presented show, with bundles of energy and bundles of talent, which made the story poignant in places, emotionally charged, and above all, highly entertaining. In thanking the Front of House team for a warm welcome to Navan, I congratulations to all involved, from front of house to on-stage and backstage, and a very fine production team, for a most enjoyable night in Dagenham.

Peter Kennedy

Gilbert Adjudicator 23/24

Photos by Nathan Maher

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