So here we have it, barely six months after opening, the machinery at Ford Dagenham has ground to a halt for the last time and Made in Dagenham has played its final performance. To say I’m gutted is putting it mildly, this was a piece of shining musical theatre that I took to my heart from the first time I saw it and again on my subsequent two revisits. You can read Review #1 Review #2 and Review #3. But the opportunity to see it one last time was one I couldn’t resist and if a show has to shutter, then the special energy of a closing night is probably the time to do it.
And I’m so glad that we went back for more (this is the first show I’ve ever dayseated twice and you can count the number of times I’ve dayseated on one hand!) as it was a truly special night. The occasion aside, it was a genuine pleasure to see and hear the show again and the cast were on fire to a (busy wo)man. Adrian der Gregorian has never sounded better than pouring all his heart and soul into ‘The Letter’, Sophie-Louise Dann tore up the stage and her colleagues’ tear ducts in ‘In An Ideal World’, Mark Hadfield’s Harold Wilson went even further over the top (if such a thing were possible), and Heather Craney’s goofy Clare became almost unbearably heart-breaking with such emotion on show.
I could list the entire company here but I’ll stop, save to express a renewed appreciation for Gemma Arterton. Not only did she deliver a showstoppingly profound performance, holding it together until the very end, but then composing herself to deliver a heartfelt and passionate speech about the love the whole company and auditorium have for this “British and brilliant” musical, sparing us none of the indignation at having to close and rightly calling out the puzzling degree of persistent negativity from certain quarters which will have done nothing to help its fortunes.
The world of new musical theatre, particularly British writing, is a fraught one and there’s little knowing which shows will survive and attract those all-important audiences. Betty Blue Eyes (6 months) was another short-lived contender that deserved more and whilst I may not have particularly enjoyed Stephen Ward (4 months) and From Here To Eternity (6 months), it was still surprising that the kudos of the writing talent behind them didn’t keep the wolves from the door a little longer. But such are the rigours of the commercial market.
A world where Thriller Live is in the top 20 longest running shows ever in the West End, where Beatles’ tribute concert Let It Be has returned for a third time, where Cats is revived with a rap in it for da kidz and Nicole Scherzinger somehow gets nominated for a Best Supporting Actress in a Musical Olivier… Obviously there’s a huge amount of personal taste at work here but similarly I think there’s a huge amount more that we could be doing to help new musicals to get a little breathing space and find their place in the world – if indeed they have one.
We need more a couple of decent mid-sized theatres in town so the pressure to fill a vast house is something they can build up to rather than be hamstrung by from the outset, we need a refocus away from jukebox retreads so that an appetite and appreciation for original music can be (re)cultivated, we need a reality check in this brave new world of social media – if you don’t like a show then fine, but then don’t feel the need to search Twitter and reply virulently to anyone talking about it. For example.
I’m well aware of the naïveté of such broad, grandstanding statements but it is hard not to feel that something is wrong in the state of the West End, when a show with such a powerful message as women’s rights is ignored (I’ve not even touched the gender side of things, Di and Viv and Rose’s early closing another sign of the problems there) and can’t capture the imagination of an army of devoted superfans in the way even a show like Sunny Afternoon can. I’m not even saying that Made in Dagenham was the perfect show, it had its issues like most others do, but I haven’t felt this sad about an early closure in quite some time. Thank the Lord that a cast recording is coming soon.