‘Nothing changes if it isn’t challenged.’
How much injustice can women endure before they rebel? Rita O’Grady is overworked and underpaid - she has finally had enough. It is 1968 and along with her female colleagues at Ford Dagenham, the mother-of-two begins a local battle for equal pay that unexpectedly garners national attention. This prescient tale attests to the continuing struggle for equal rights that wages on today.
University of Oxford students present this uplifting musical. Full of energy, grit and passion, Made in Dagenham brings recognition to everyday women standing up for their rights.
When I’m not doing my degree, I watch a lot of period drama, which not only teaches me about the history of the particular time, but also about what people wore. It was no different when I watched the film Made in Dagenham, on which the musical is based. When I then read the musical script, I was inspired not only by the themes, but the place that fashion occupies in the show. A stand out moment is when Lisa Hopkins lends her Biba dress to Rita; the one Rita had commented on when they happen to meet outside Mr Buckton’s office. Lisa is a highly educated, stylish woman, who understands and identifies with the plight of the Ford sewing machinists in their fight for equal pay. The handing over of the Biba dress is a symbol of solidarity between classes of women, and of power whereby Rita goes on to make her groundbreaking speech to the TUC. Having the privilege as a designer to make this moment happen was something I was incredibly excited about.
Yet, how to compete with the design for the film by Louise Stjernsward, based on Barbara Hulanicki's original Biba designs? Initially as my research into the brand expanded, I was keen on doing something different, to give people a glimpse of the wealth of other designs Biba had to offer, from her iconic gingham dress to the miniskirt. However, upon discussion with the director, there seemed a clear reason why every production of the show so far has kept this detail. This red dress has come to represent far more than just a celebration of a Biba design: audiences make connections between the film and the show, identifying it as a symbol of Rita's growing confidence in the fight for equal pay. Not having Rita in a red dress would be like depriving Dorothy of her ruby slippers, or leaving the Phantom of the Opera without his mask It’s safe to say that the red dress by Biba is here to stay.
One design decision down...how then would we make our design original: what would make the costumes in our version stand out? A trip to to the Victoria and Albert museum in London was a particularly instrumental part in this process. I spent a long time in their fashion gallery, absorbing how clothing changed over time, tight restrictive Victorian bodices are replaced by the flamboyant patterns in 1960s and beyond. I was able to study designs not just by Biba, but by Mary Quant, who was renowned for challenging the dominance of Parisian fashion, increasing the popularity of mini skirts and hot pants, as well as André Courrèges, who produced luxury ready-to-wear designs for an emerging market for young people. Whilst these two designers are mentioned in the script, I went beyond this to study the more psychedelic style of the late sixties made popular by Emilio Pucci, as well as examples of knitwear by Ritva Ross. In the costume department we have been able to incorporate aspects of work by these designers into the costume, paying homage to the variety of 60s fashion. Come and see the show to see if you can spot where they appear!
Beth McCullagh, Costume Designer
If you could describe Made in Dagenham in 5 words what would it be?
Important issues with incredible music.
What is your favourite song from the production and why?
As Musical Director, I think this question is quite unfair. There are so many great melodies that make the audience want to leave the theatre singing and that makes it very difficult to choose which one is the best. However, I think I owe my decision to my ‘Spotify Top Played Songs of 2018’ in which hit number 2 (yes, it really is that high) is The Letter- am I ashamed? No, and I’ll tell you why. This song comes at such a vital point in the show: emotions are running high and everyone is truly anticipating the best outcome for the women. And there stands Eddie, alone on stage, singing his heart out. The build up of the music, the orchestration, the vocal ad libs all combine to create an absolute smash hit. No pressure, eh? I genuinely cannot wait to see this on the stage at the Playhouse.
What has been the most exciting part of musically directing this production so far?
The first vocal rehearsal with the full cast had to be my most excited moment. To finally hear over 20 voices singing this gorgeous music was something quite exhilarating. The end of Storm Clouds is such a climax of the show, and to hear it in 6 part harmony, with the full cast giving it everything so early in the rehearsal process, gave me so much hope for what they are going to give the audience on that Playhouse Stage. Just you wait.
What drew you to being musical director of this show?
I will continue to say this again and again: the music is so catchy. But more than that, what I said in my original Musical Directors statement for our bid was that it is the true epitome of a British musical: a feel-good story of empowerment meets classic British music, creating a show that’s catchy and memorable. It combines so many different musical genres into one show, juxtaposing 60s Rock and Pop right next to more traditional musical theatre numbers. There is also a strong balance between ensemble and solo singing - you certainly get a lot for your ticket price.
What challenges are you looking forward to?
They say never work with children or animals. Luckily, there are none of the latter in the show, but bringing 4 incredible kids into the mix of a Student production is certainly going to be a challenge, but one that I am really looking forward to! It is definitely going to test Miranda and me, as well as the cast, but I’m sure it will really bring the whole show up a level.
Josh Cottell, Musical Director