I’ve recently discovered that I really enjoy watching musicals. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this, but it’s true. I’ve spent years avoiding them and telling myself I don’t enjoy them but actually, they are great fun and when I have been, I have really enjoyed myself. I love watching all accessible theatre.
I’ve seen three musicals over the last few months at the West End and they have all been absolutely superb, in my opinion. Perhaps it’s because I have been lucky to see three of the best musicals on the West End stage at the moment. I know that not all musicals are as good as that.
It’s probably also because I have been rediscovering music and sound since I got my cochlear implant last summer. Going to watch musicals has become a new experience for me. Following the live captioning, combined with being able to hear the words sung and spoken by the actors more clearly than ever before because of the hearing loop, has given me a whole new experience of watching live theatre.
I went to see the West End musical ‘Made in Dagenham’ recently, which was captioned by STAGETEXT. I thought it was fantastic. It’s a really good ‘feel-good’ musical, which lifts you up and has a great storyline, based on a true story. The visuals too were stunning. The stage sets were really creative and colourful, transporting you to the Britain of the late 1960s, complete with psychedelic Swinging Sixties fashions, original Ford Cortina cars and Berni Inns.
The story is based on the 1968 strike by the women working as sewing machinists at the Ford car factory in Dagenham, Essex. They made car seat covers for the Ford cars. They went on strike because they were told that their jobs were to be regraded from category B (more skilled workers) to category C (lower skilled workers), and as a result, they would be paid 15% less than the full B rate received by men.
The strike was all about fighting for equality and the right to be paid the same rate as the men, who they were working alongside in the factory. One of the women, Rita O’Grady, played by actress Gemma Arterton, became their unlikely leader and spokeswoman. She was a normal working class worker and mother, who was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. She ended up fighting for them all because she believed that she had to fight against this injustice and do the right thing, even when her husband walked out on her with her children as he couldn’t take the pressure anymore. I thought that Gemma Arterton was fantastic as Rita.
Eventually, the strikers ended up stopping all car production in the UK for a few weeks as stocks of car seats ran out. The MP Barbara Castle, who was the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity in Harold Wilson’s Labour government at the time, stepped in by inviting the Dagenham women to tea with her at Westminster. I thought the actress who played Barbara Castle, Sophie-Louise Dann, was excellent. She played her as a very feisty, red-headed, strong-minded and determined woman.
In one scene she sang a song called ‘In An Ideal World’, where she was telling them that in an ideal world, everything would be great, but we live in the real world, “where sacrifices have to be made”. She told them that the Ford bosses had agreed to give the women 92% of what the men were paid, and they would be given full category C status the next year. She said that in politics it was all about compromises and they should be grateful for what they had been offered.
The women decided though, that they didn’t want 92% of what the men were paid, so Rita decided to go to the TUC conference in Eastbourne, where she gave an impassioned speech to the Trade Unionists gathered there to a standing ovation and huge round of applause. Eventually, this led to the introduction of the Equal Pay Act in 1970, a huge milestone in the history of women’s campaign for equality.
This is a great story but because of the seriousness of its message, it could have made the musical very heavy. Instead, it was very funny and entertaining, with some powerful messages behind it about fighting for justice and equality for women. There was a fantastic scene where Ford was unveiling their new Ford Cortina in Essex to the media, complete with an Austin Powers lookalike in a purple velvet suit, glamorous models in white plastic thigh-high boots and sparkly mini-dresses in the car against the backdrop of a flashy, psychedelic car showroom. Brilliant!
It’s amazing that this all happened almost fifty years ago. In terms of equality, a lot has been achieved since then but there is still so much more to be done before we ever reach full equality, not only for women, but also for many other groups of people, including disabled people, ethnic minorities and homosexuals.
Women are still fighting to get equal pay now, even with the Equal Pay Act, much as disabled people are still fighting to be treated equally in the workplace, despite the Equality Act 2010. It should not be about saving money and cutting costs as it is for some companies, but about treating people equally and fairly.
‘Made in Dagenham’ is a great musical based on a really powerful true story. I had a great night out and would recommend anyone to go and see it!