Gemma Arterton was in a recording studio giving full belt to two of the songs that will be among the big numbers featured in the musical Made In Dagenham, about the historic industrial action at Ford Motors when women machinists demanded equal pay.
Actually, Gemma gave me a private sampling from one number during Charles Finch’s swanky party at Eden Roc during the Cannes Film Festival.
I didn’t know it, but it was called Stand Up. It’s a rousing wake-up-call sung by Rita O’Grady, the woman Gemma will play in the musical, which has been written by Richard Bean with music by David Arnold and lyrics by Richard Thomas.
I’ve heard several other songs and they’re incredibly powerful.
‘They’re punchy and touching’, Gemma said.
She said the women in the show remind her of relatives she was close to when growing up — ‘working class, full of beans, funny and witty’, she recalled.
And saucy, too, from the dialogue I’ve heard.
But Gemma said she was angered that the UK is still unequal when it comes to pay for women. ‘It may have passed into law, but it’s still not in the workplace,’ she thundered.
It saddens the composer, too. ‘There’s still so much discussion about women working and not being fairly paid,’ said Arnold.
He stressed the importance of the show, which opens at the Adelphi Theatre on October 9. ‘We’re looking at the past with a view to the future and the present. You can look at what happened to the Dagenham women with the benefit of hindsight and contemporise it without moving out of the Sixties’.
Listening to the score and hearing titles such as Everybody Out and Stand Up, I was struck by how it resonated with the sense of industrial conflict.
Arnold said it was very natural to him because his parents worked at the old Electrolux factory in Luton. ‘My dad was a big sort of socialist, though he wasn’t involved in any industrial action,’ he said.
He said Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black album was a starting point with the score because it evoked a sense of the Sixties with a contemporary twist, with a nod to U.S. rhythm and blues.
He said to try to imagine the likes of Bruce Springsteen, and producers Phil Spector, George Martin and Marc Ronson, trying to make a record with a bunch of picketing women who won’t take no for an answer.