Laugh, weep and applaud her triumph

Made In Dagenham with The Rattonians SUS-160726-095344001
Made In Dagenham with The Rattonians SUS-160726-095344001

There is no-one like Rattonians. They are back at the Congress Theatre this week with a smashing Made in Dagenham, and you would need to travel the length and breadth of Britain to find a finer local theatre company.

Again and again, Rattonians match and often exceed “professional” standards, and admirably in recent years, they have been adventurous in their choice of shows – notably in 2015 The Addams Family and Legally Blonde, both triumphantly delivered. Made in Dagenham is another bold choice, but on this evidence utterly justified.

Developed from the original movie, this musical has nothing that quite compares. Its nearest parallel The Full Monty is abrasively, sweatily male, whereas Made in Dagenham is funnier and a good deal more lovable. It’s a fine and difficult balance of humour, human relationships and huge political issues, but it works.

Although never tedious, the show is indulgently long at almost three hours, but the fault is in the writing, not the playing – so let that not for a moment put you off. Made in Dagenham is joyously, almost brazenly different and this production is fabulous. It delivers the music and dance with relish and confidence, and the acting and quick-fire dialogue with humour and humanity. A huge first-night audience was swept from merely enthusiastic to absolutely ecstatic.

Political theatre can be difficult and dour. But the story of the Ford women workers battling for fairness is colourful and bitingly funny. In the girls’ machine room a clutch of excellent actors seize the character parts: hilarious Heather Bilton, wonderful dumb blonde Laura Sivers and a wise and warm Avril Bell. Daniella Redmond and Emily Davis also convince. In fact, nobody in this show feels like supporting cast: they are all integral.

A shiningly confident chorus sets the standard. Authentically dressed and on a splendid Sixties set, Jan Lynton’s choreography perfectly catches the spirit of a bold, front-foot score. Carl Greenwood and his band keep the balance just right.

Mark Adams directs shrewdly, putting the actors front and centre, and his own character, shop steward Monty, is credible and sympathetic. Co-producer Melanie Adams is a cracking Barbara Castle, the battleaxe with a huge heart in that historic Harold Wilson government. Peter Gurr and Jeorgia Spencer have intelligent chemistry – including acidity – as the company boss and his surprisingly radical wife.

The score lacks memorable tunes but it bowls along, with some brilliant surrealist moments including Wilson’s (Steve Clarke) silly-walks dancing with the civil servants, and an unmissable Viva Eastbourne dance number. And James Bell revels in his nasty US big-boss role.

The best till last: the central, pivotal role of Rita is beautifully played by Chloe Shearer in possibly her best-ever Rattonians performance. Nicely counterbalanced by well-meaning husband Eddie (Wayne Newton), she is juggling household budgets, a full-time job and two children (engaging Megan Clarke and Jude Deedigan), until unwelcome greatness is thrust upon her. Chloe is by turns defiant, vulnerable, hapless, eloquent. She speaks for all women and sings for England, never mind Dagenham, and she carries this production with absolute class. Get to the Congress, and you will laugh, weep and triumph with her. By Kevin Anderson