Review: Alnwick Stage Musical Society bring Made in Dagenham to the stage

Lightning Strike at Alnwick Playhouse!
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No need to worry. The only danger of bringing the house down is the sound of cheering and clapping at the end of Alnwick Stage Musical Society (ASMS) latest production Made in Dagenham.

Set in 1968 the storyline centres on the strike by women sewing machinist demanding equal pay at Ford Motors Dagenham plant.

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Claire Barber, making her debut as ASMS producer, has achieved a true tour de force.

Alnwick Stage Music Society's Made in Dagenham.Alnwick Stage Music Society's Made in Dagenham.
Alnwick Stage Music Society's Made in Dagenham.

High tempo throughout the show, slick changes of set and great characterisation ensure the audience is totally engrossed in the action. Congratulations Claire. It’s a hit!

Leonie Airlie gives a mesmerising performance as Rita O’Grady, the reluctant leader of the women machinist.

Bringing both strength and vulnerability Leonie shows how ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. Her singing, dancing as well as superb timing runs as a thread throughout the show.

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Equally Ryan Frost, as Rita’s husband Eddie, nails it. Taking the audience on a roller coaster of emotions. Ryan perfectly captures the conflict Eddie experiences as a traditional way of life and thinking is about to change dramatically. Vocally Ryan shows power and sensitivity in equal measure and his performance of ‘The Letter’ was one of the highlights for me.

A host of talented performers provide added colour and depth to the production. Susannah Clapcott is terrific as the loudmouth, politically incorrect Beryl. Her comic timing and her totally believable character is a joy.

Three newcomers to ASMS Eloise Barber playing Sandra Beaumont, Emily Pearse as Clare and Amy Cowan as Cass all bring an extra sparkle to the show. Look forward to seeing their talents come through in future productions.

Stuart Archer as the hapless Prime Minister Harold Wilson brings humour and some light relief from the intense action. His interactions with feisty, redhead minister Barbara Castle (her of the breathalyser) are reminiscent of a Punch and Judy Show playing on Eastbourne beach. Diane Maughan gets to grips with the role of Castle and shows both a steeliness and a human side to the character.

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Connie Riley and Monty played by Lynne Lambert and Mark Stenton bring another dimension to the drama. As dedicated shop stewards for many years they are still fighting against the very system they believed were fighting for them. Mired in grievance procedures and intransigence they keep going but it takes it toll. Lynne gives a heartfelt and heart-rending moment with the song ‘Same Old Story.’ It was special!

Looming large like pantomime villains are the management. Peter Biggers as the general Ford manager Mr Hopkins and Gary Brown as the head honcho from Ford US are set to break the strike at all costs but they hadn’t bargained on the directness of Lisa (Mrs) Hopkins (Claire Teasdale) putting both men in their place with a strength of character and a formidable glare!

The chorus line of ASMS has always been the bedrock of its success. Ladies of the chorus are simply the best. They look and sound brilliant. Who doesn’t love a beehive and a bit back comb! Chorus numbers are on the money. The clever staging of a double chorus, as the striking machinists call upon their fellow workers in Liverpool for support, adds drama and a true unity. In true solidarity the men’s chorus brings energy and drive to the action. Covering a whole range of characters process workers, management and men from the ministry they were great. Take a bow!

Not to forget the youngest members of the cast. Rita and Eddie’s children Sharon played by Iris Thomas-Harrison and Graham played by Isaac Quinn were just perfect. Well done! Hope you continue to enjoy theatre.

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ASMS are indeed fortunate to have musical director Peter Brown at the helm. His drive and enthusiasm give performers the confidence to achieve greatness. The talented groups of musicians in the band added much to the success of the show. Clever staging allowing them to be on stage and fully part of the action was brilliant.

No show works without a backstage crew. Virginia Mayes-Wright and her team did an amazing job. All those involved as assistant producer, costumes, make up, lighting and sound, scaffolders, chaperones deserve the greatest of bows. Without you the show can’t go on!