Skip to content


January 28, 2015
A Star is Born. Gemma Salter outside the Adelphi theatre

A Star is Born. Gemma Salter outside the Adelphi theatre

For the first time in my reviewing career, I entered a theatre auditorium with my introduction already written.

It ran along the lines of ‘A Star is Born’ and after seeing Gemma Salter take over the lead role in Made in Dagenham at the Adelphi in the Strand, it stays.

A very popular young lady from Romford, Gemma has carved her way into the acting profession from a very young age, and helped enormously by her mother who had my phone number at the Romford Recorder on speed dial.

Gemma’s appearances in early Dave Ross and Eddie Coleman plays and later Community Musicals when Dave teamed up with Gerry Sweeney was elegantly put in a piece by Gerry on Facebook this week.

So from watching a beautiful and very talented teenager develop as an outstanding all round actress and singer, the venues changed last night (January 27) from cavernous and draughty community halls to the bright lights of west end and,  literally, a star was born.

It is a totally different experience watching talent develop, even when she starred in the Ray Davis musical in Stratford East, but this was the biggy, this was the metamorphosis into a magnificent and supremely confident butterfly that qualified my introduction.

An addition every actor dreams about

An addition every actor dreams about

The stage belonged to Gemma and even after some years admiring her emerging talent, this was west end at its finest and where she belongs.

It came about as Gemma was understudy to Gemma Arterton who played the lead role of Rita O’Grady, and our star was given her chance for three nights as her namesake was rested.

In fact the entire company shone in this fast moving volcanic production, the last time I saw such energy was in Footloose and Rent.

flyer wThe story of the Dagenham strike by women seamstresses is well known after the world wide publicity and film.

The musical tries to capture the essence with some very witty lines and cameo appearances, in particular Sophie Louise Dann as the formidable politician, Barbara Castle and the brilliant portrayal of Prime Minister Harold Wilson by Mark Hadfield, who gave us Wilson as a lot of people perceived him to be.

This is a big show and a vibrant company to match. First and foremost it is a rapid and fast moving musical comedy where blinking eyes are prone to miss many gems.

A picture that tells the story by Manuel Harlan

A picture that tells the story by Manuel Harlan

Talking of which: The lead role Rita O’Grady is the hook by which the story hangs. A housewife with two children and a Ford worker husband laid off by his wife’s strike action.

As mentioned above, the role of Rita is taken by film star Gemma Arterton, and though I have not seen her portrayal, for a star of her quality I can only assume was the same as the quality and emotion of our own Gemma.

Ford women downgraded in a man's world

Ford women downgraded in a man’s world

The set by Bunny Christie is a masterpiece in capturing the essence of giant industrial production line dynamics and quite outstanding. Having spent some hours photographing in a few of the Dagenham plants, it brought on an involuntary reaction of ducking my head.

Showing an outstretched humour, writer Bean really spilled the ink with his portrayal of the Ford chiefs scurrying from the US to stop the strike. With a song called ‘This is America’ by Richard Thomas, the war time cameo of the cavalry was brilliant with all that we British love about the American psyche, – not.

flyer 2 wIsla Blair as Connie brought the house down. The archetypical factory worker, she made strong swearing acceptable and extremely funny. It was very close to home and superbly done.

But I must pay tribute to the entire company. As I said earlier, their performance was a blistering and exciting master class of song and dance that seemed to require the energy levels of Superman.

You come out of the theatre knowing you have had superb value for money and a memorable night of entertainment.

So now the big question, Why is it being closed  in 12 weeks time after only 100 shows?

To this there is no quotable answer, only  supposition,

To me it shows the high octane requirement of the west end theatres having to operate in miniscule budgets with a cigarette paper thin margin between profit and loss. Advanced ticket sales and uptake appear to be the guiding principals meaning that to survive, any production must hit the ground running.

From writing to design and a large dollop of luck, any production has explode on to the stage.

Made in Dagenham has all the elements of ordinance but has not attracted the audience.

Writer Richard Bean

Writer Richard Bean

The script tells the story well but does not quite reach the monumental achievement of a group of women doing an ‘Oliver’.

It was more than that. It was a watershed in industrial relations, previously unheard of and achieved under enormous pressure from the heavy handed and controlling influence of world industrial giants.

I was on the papers at the time and recall the newsroom reaction of not another ruddy strike. Of which there were plenty and marked Harold Wilson’s tenure in Downing Street as the equivalent to Charge of the Light Brigade in terms of sensible military tactics.

The one thing that distinguished this strike, was a radio report of the picket line outside the Dagenham Factory where a large banner was caught in a gust of wind and changed the legend from we want sex equality to WE WANT SEX.

Publicity picture with Genna Alderton

Publicity picture with Gemma Arterton

It was an instant image and may be the embellished victim of whispers such as the famous First World War ‘Send three and four pence, we are going to a dance, instead of send reinforcements, we are going to advance.

But it inspired the playwright, Richard Bean to write the play after hearing it on the car radio.

The story hit our nationals and attracted world wide attention. A good laugh but people instantly recognised the point of equality and followed it through to  Ford Motor Company eventually granting equal pay status to all of its workers.

Humour has its place and in this case it was the vector that spread the word and roused the interest for such an earthquake, but the realism displaced the humour for historical achievement.

Gemma Salter

Gemma Salter

The script did carry well the pressure on Rita O’Grady and her women workers, and it was superbly conveyed by Gemma with such emotion, it brought an instant hush to the auditorium and death to anyone who chose the moment to unwrap the noisy sweet wrapper.

However, the incident of the banner is by which it is still remembered, did not reach the stage.

This is my point about the finite margins in theatre land. A brief mention would have satisfied and stirred the memory of the time. The other thought was out of 20 songs, each delivered with as much gusto as hit the banner, there was not an obvious one to stick in the mind and hum on leaving the portals.

Two very minor points, apparently insignificant, but may just have been the match on the blue touch paper.

Production pictures by Manuel Harlan and Gemma Salter outside Adelphi by Barry Kirk




From → Entertainment

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: