I made it under the wire to 'Made in Dagenham' last night - poor ticket sales have led inevitably to its closure at the end of March. Today's musical theatre backers are risk-averse. Who can blame them?
I was a fan of the 2010 film, having interviewed its star Sally Hawkins and producer Stephen Woolley at the Cannes Film Festival the year before, when the flick was still called 'We Want Sex'. It was an ingenious title, relating to the banners made out of bedsheets that the Ford Dagenham women machinists carried when they marched in the name of equal pay in 1968, and which led to the Equal Pay Act of 1970. What the frontline banner actually said was 'We Want Sexual Equality'. But when the photographs appeared in the papers, the right-hand half of the banner was chopped off. 'Made in Dagenham' is a cop-out by comparison.
Hawkins, Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson as Employment Secretary Barbara Castle made the movie. The stage adaptation features Bond babe Gemma Arterton in the lead. She's pretty, busty, leggy and cute. She's a good singer. She reminds me of real-life Dagenham doll Sandie Shaw. But there's little meat with the veg, and negligible gravy.
With music by David Arnold, Richard Bean's libretto and Richard Thomas's lyrics, I had anticipated more. But the piece is thin on emotion. Its light and shade is a blur. The jokes are playground, the songs are unmemorable, the lyrics Am-Dram. It is too crude for comfort, more fart than art. In all, the show lacks voice. Mark Hadfield's Prime Minister Harold Wilson is a bumbling fool, played for cheap laughs. Sophie-Louise Dann's Barbara Castle is magnificent by comparison. A real ballbreaker. And where does she keep her balls? Under a bushel, of course.
The industrial-action theme was explored to greater effect and with infinitely more dignity in 'Billy Elliot', which deployed the 1984 miners' strike as its backdrop. Because they didn't ram it down our throats, we got the point. 'Made in Dagenham' the musical manages to trivialise the mission, and perversely seems quite sexist as a result.
Had I been in charge, I'd have gone the jukebox-musical route. 'It's a Man's Man's Man's World', James Brown; 'Wooly Bully', Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs; 'Days', the Kinks; 'Can I Get a Witness', Dusty; Desmond Dekker's 'Israelites'. There is much from the era to choose from, and at least the audience would have gone home humming.
The film's title track, incidentally, featured lyrics by Billy Bragg, and was performed by Sandie Shaw. They'll know next time.