Some colleagues note the passage of time by school holidays, others by year groups progressing on to university, but after eight years my time at Emanuel has very much been governed by the school musical. And this year’s production of Made in Dagenham will live in my mind for some time to come.
Made in Dagenham tells the story of the Ford machinists striking for equal pay. In 1968 the company restructured, and management informed the women that their jobs were to fall into Category B (less skilled production jobs), and that they would be being paid 15% less than their male colleagues. The strikers were joined by their colleagues at Ford’s Halewood Plant, and between them 187 women shut down a factory with 55,000 workers producing 3000 cars a day. Ford was incensed. The women made history.
The musical tells their tale through fictional amalgamations of the original strikers, interacting with some very real historical characters. It centres on the O’Grady family, Rita and Eddie, played with great maturity by Erica Ford and Rudi Goodman. Rita, inspired by her union stalwart colleague Connie, Megan Ferncombe, leads the machinists in a battle with management, with hilarious turns from Wilf Mason-White, as Ford Dagenham’s Director, Hopkins, and Ethan Bailey-Smith, representing the seedier side of Ford America. Rita and the girls make it to parliament, helped by Barbara Castle, Mia Albel Stevenson in fine voice, and hindered by Harold Wilson, a fleet of foot Harry Still. Finally Rita makes a speech at the TUC Conference, asking the majority male union members for a better future for their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters. Stand Up, sung by Rita and the machinists is a powerful end to the show, and the ovations earned were a fitting end to seven months hard work for all 118 students involved on stage and off.
Mr Arnott (Teacher of Drama)