Review: Made in Dagenham at the Orchard Theatre

Made in Dagenham is based on the true story of the Ford sewing machinists’ strike of 1968, which became key to the passing of the Equal Pay Act two years later. Not surprisingly given the subject matter, it’s a feel-good show with some rousing musical numbers and a finale that simultaneously reminds us how far we’ve come and unashamedly commands us to get on our feet and face up to the challenges still ahead.

The Dartford Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (DAODS) are one of the first amateur groups in the South East to get the rights to perform Made in Dagenham, which closed in the West End in 2015 after a well-received but relatively short run starring Gemma Arterton. And they’ve proved themselves more than worthy of the honour by producing another excellent show, with director Alex Campbell making her Orchard directorial debut in swinging 60s style.

Photo credit: Rob Hooker

The story follows Rita O’Grady (Stephanie Trott), a Ford machinist who finds herself the unwitting leader of the strike after a dispute over pay scales turns into something much bigger. Facing off against the male-dominated unions, the might of Ford – represented by one very unpleasant American – and the disapproval of her husband Eddie (Alex Freeman), Rita and her girls take their struggle all the way to the top, rubbing shoulders with prime minister Harold Wilson (John Woodley) and Employment Secretary Barbara Castle (Julia Bull) on their way to winning over the TUC conference with an impassioned plea for equality.

Let’s be clear about one thing: this is not a serious or, I suspect, hugely accurate depiction of the events surrounding the strike. Nor is it particularly balanced – the opening number says it all: “If you want something done, ask a busy woman… cos you’re wasting your time asking a man.” Later, when he forgets their 10th wedding anniversary, Eddie offers as an explanation: “I’m just a man with a foolish brain.” The show at times tiptoes very close to the line between cheering for women and putting down men, but is always good humoured enough to pull it back at the last minute.

Leading lady Stephanie Trott is an experienced musical theatre performer, and it shows; she’s perfectly at ease and totally genuine both as the bubbly wife, mother and friend, and as the feisty activist – we could easily have been watching her on a West End stage. Alex Freeman, a DAODS veteran of over 10 years, offers great support as husband Eddie, really coming into his own in Act 2 with a heartfelt rendition of The Letter. And there are great – if surreal – comic performances from John Woodley as Harold Wilson, unflatteringly portrayed as a sort of man-child who’s terrified of women (and indeed any kind of responsibility) and Alex Tyrrell, who’s brilliantly bitchy as the cowboy American boss flown in to put down the revolt. Most importantly for a show that’s about solidarity, the whole cast has great chemistry and the big ensemble numbers are real highlights in an already brilliant show.

From the moment the curtain rises, there’s no doubt what era we’re in; the set and costumes are right on the money and transport us instantly to the swinging 60s. My only minor gripe about the production is that there are occasional sound issues; in the factory scenes the background chatter becomes slightly overpowering, and a few of the lyrics get lost when the band’s in full swing.

Made in Dagenham is a slightly bonkers little show in many ways, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The show has some catchy tunes and a cheeky, self-deprecating sense of humour, and it makes us realise how lucky we are to have had battles like this fought for us long before we were even born, even as we understand there’s still work to do. Best of all: the show may have been made in Dagenham – but DAODS was made in Dartford, and they’ve done us proud.

Made in Dagenham is at the Orchard Theatre until 29th April.

Interview: Alex Campbell, DAODS Made in Dagenham

The Dartford Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society was founded in 1906, when three residents decided to form a local operatic society to offset “the perceived lack of facilities for entertainment” in Dartford. Though we no longer have that problem, with a thriving local theatre that attracts some of the UK’s top touring shows, DAODS are still going strong – and proving with each production that they’re more than capable of holding their own alongside the visiting talent.

And later this month DAODS will be back at the Orchard Theatre with their production of Made in Dagenham. They’re one of the first amateur groups in the South East to perform the show, and director Alex Campbell is looking forward to bringing a little bit of Essex to our Dartford shores.

“It’s very exciting to be one of the first groups to do the show in this area,” she says. “It feels so close to home – just across the bridge! – so we know that the people of Dartford will really enjoy it. Within our company, there are many who remember and were directly affected by the events that inspired Made in Dagenham, and we hope it will bring back memories for lots of people.”


The show’s based on the true story of the women who worked in the Ford factory at Dagenham during the late 60s. “After their jobs as machinists were deemed ‘unskilled’ and upon the realisation that they were paid 87% of the wage of their male counterparts, the women went on strike,” explains Alex. “They gained the backing of the Trade Unions, which forced Ford to adopt an equal pay policy. As a direct result, the Equal Pay Act was signed into legislation in 1970 and formed the basis of much of our equal rights policy in this country.”

This particular strike may have ended in victory, but Alex believes women’s rights still have a long way to go: “Although we have come very far, gender inequality is still not resolved in this country and the show really highlights all the work we have left to do. Feminism is certainly having a resurgence at the moment and I think Made in Dagenham is an excellent reminder of how recently things have actually begun to change for women, and in some ways, how much they have yet to change at all.”

The show brings together a cast of over 40 talented local performers. “I am so thrilled by our fantastic cast,” says Alex. “Our leading lady Rita O’Grady is played by Stephanie Trott, who’s previously worked professionally in the West End, and she’s joined by Alex Freeman, who’s played many fantastic roles for DAODS, as her husband Eddie. The two were last seen as Sweeney and Mrs Lovett in our production of Sweeney Todd last year. We also have two brilliant local young people, Joseph and Elouise, who join us to play their children. There is a fantastic mixture of old and new members in the show, with many DAODS leading actors returning to take up principal roles.”

Alex has been a member of DAODS for over 15 years, having joined the society as a member of the youth group at age 9. “Since then it’s been a huge part of my life and has helped me gain skills and experience that have allowed me to pursue a professional career in the theatre world,” she says. “It may sound cliché, but DAODS is really like a huge family and I am so grateful for their encouragement and support over the past few months.

“I’m thrilled to be directing my first Orchard production, having previously directed Hair for the society which was performed at our hall. I’ve always wanted to direct an Orchard show and one of the most exciting things is the huge scale of the production and the potential to create amazing things with a large cast. We are so lucky to have the support of the Orchard staff, who are so incredible at their jobs and have been a great support to the process.”

For anyone inspired to join DAODS, there are some great opportunities ahead over the coming months. “We have many exciting things coming up next, including our Disney revue Dream which will be at Heathfields Hall in July, and then our next Orchard production will be the iconic Singin’ In The Rain in October. As always, we are looking for new members for our group and our next society auditions will be after Dagenham – so do get in touch and join us. You will not regret it!”

Don’t miss DAODS’ Made in Dagenham at the Orchard Theatre from 26th-29th April. And to find out more about DAODS, visit the website.

Review: Annie Get Your Gun at the Orchard Theatre

I have no idea how it took me this long to make it to my first production by the Dartford Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (DAODS). But if Annie Get Your Gun is an indication of the quality I’ve been missing, I can safely say it won’t be the last.

From the exuberant opening number, There’s No Business Like Show Business, it’s obvious this is a polished production from a dedicated and talented company; in fact there’s really very little to distinguish the show from the professional standard we’re used to seeing at the Orchard.

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Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun is based on the true story of Annie Oakley, a tomboy with a talent for sharpshooting, who’s discovered by Colonel Buffalo Bill and persuaded to join his travelling Wild West Show. Romance blossoms between Annie and the show’s star shooter, Frank Butler, but is threatened by their constant squabbling and professional rivalry. Can the two of them resolve their differences and live scrappily ever after?

The undeniable star of the show is Abby James, who makes her Orchard Theatre debut as Annie. With perfect comic timing and a sensational voice, she gives an energetic performance that’s more than worthy of a West End stage. Paul Farlie charms us all as the smooth-talking Frank Butler, and there are stand-out performances from Heather Upton in her first major role with DAODS, playing Annie’s nemesis Dolly Tate, and Webster Bryans in his first production with the group as knife-thrower Tommy Keeler.

One of the most impressive things about the production, which is directed by Amy Farlie, is the attention to detail. Because it’s framed as a show within a show, for instance, the set changes become part of the action, and it’s great fun to listen to the actors bicker amongst themselves as they hurry on and off the stage. The cast are obviously enjoying themselves up there, and their enthusiasm is infectious, particularly during the spectacular ensemble numbers, choreographed by Sam Eades.

The show itself is also great fun, with several familiar songs and an enjoyable story (and I don’t even like guns). It also comes with a massive helping of girl power; for all her sighing over Frank, Annie’s not willing to change who she is to be with him. And she’s definitely not about to obey…

Everything about this production – not only the performances but also the set, costumes, choreography, and the fantastic band, led by Steve Trill – is of the highest standard. DAODS may be amateur by name, but don’t let that put you off going along to one of their shows. I’ll certainly be back for more.

Annie Get Your Gun has now closed, but check out the DAODS website for details of upcoming productions, including Made in Dagenham in 2017.

Preview: DAODS’ Annie Get Your Gun at the Orchard Theatre

This week, the Orchard Theatre plays host to the Dartford Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (DAODS) and their production of Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun. Established in 1906, DAODS have over 200 musicals, plays and revues to their name – not to mention some pretty high profile former members, among them West End stars Lara Pulver and Rebecca Thornhill – and they’re showing no sign of slowing down any time soon.

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Annie Get Your Gun, which first opened on Broadway in 1946, tells the story of Annie Oakley, the best shot around, who’s discovered by Colonel Buffalo Bill and persuaded to join his Wild West Show. She soon falls for the dashing Frank Butler, but can their romance survive when she outshines him professionally, or will his bruised ego prove too much of an obstacle?

“The show is a classic, with some of the best known numbers in the musical theatre canon, including Anything You Can Do and There’s No Business Like Show Business,” explains DAODS’ Pat Walsh. “Those who have seen our shows at the Orchard Theatre before will know to expect the highest level of production values, with a full orchestra and professional lighting and sound, as well as a cast of over 50 adults and children, who will be on stage giving it their all.”

DAODS have been performing at the Orchard Theatre since it opened in 1982. “We typically perform two shows a year: one in the spring and one in the autumn. This production of Annie Get Your Gun will be the third time we’ve staged this show, the second time we’ve performed it at the Orchard Theatre, and our 66th show at the theatre in all.

“In many ways the Orchard’s become our second home, and it gives us the opportunity to put on shows to professional standards, where we can hire professional sets and orchestra as well as lighting and sound. In the last few years we had to cut down to just one show a year at the theatre, with the others being at our own venue of Heathfields Hall. However, we’re glad to say that we’re back to our normal six-monthly cycle, with Made in Dagenham coming up in the spring and Singing in the Rain in October 2017.”

Photo credit: Amy Farlie
Photo credit: Amy Farlie

Made in Dagenham marks a particularly exciting time for the Society: “We’ve been incredibly fortunate to be one of the first groups in the South-East to be given the rights to perform this recent West End smash hit show,” says Pat. “It’s a really feel good show, telling the real life story of the Ford workers’ strike in 1968, and is a testament to the power of ordinary people standing up for what’s right.”

Made in Dagenham is a show that requires a large cast of all ages, and auditions to join the Society will be taking place after their current show. To find out about auditions, email daodscom@gmail.com – DAODS are always looking for new members of all levels of experience.

Book now to catch DAODS’ Annie Get Your Gun at the Orchard Theatre from 5th-8th October.