DOUGLAS RINTOUL is the new artistic director at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch. Appointed in 2015, Rintoul – a Drama & Theatre Arts alumnus of the University of Birmingham – has chosen for his first major show the musical comedy Made in Dagenham (music by David Arnold, lyrics by Richard Thomas, book by Richard Bean), which only recently spent all-too-short a spell at the Adelphi in London’s West End.
Despite the lukewarm response to the show in the capital, it’s an apposite choice for the Queen’s, given the theatre’s location just a few miles from the Ford Dagenham factory at the centre of the drama. It’s also perhaps not surprising given that Rintoul’s own mother worked in the plant.
In the run-up to the Made in Dagenham’s opening this week, Rintoul spoke to Musical Theatre Review about staging the show’s first major revival, and also the importance of regional theatre like the Queen’s to local communities.
Why choose Made in Dagenham as your Queen’s debut?
A number of reasons, really. One, it’s a piece of local history. The Ford Dagenham plant is only a couple of miles down the road from the Queen’s, so pretty much every single member of the audience will know someone who worked at Ford at some point. We were looking for a show for our community theatre – we do a big community project every other year – and the amateur rights for Made in Dagenham had become available. I made a joke that we should perhaps get the first professional rights and our chief exec followed it up. After a couple of months of discussion with Weinberger, we got agreement to do the regional premiere, which is really exciting.
Also, me, personally, I’m from Essex so it’s great to celebrate Essex. It gets quite a lot of bad press, so it’s really nice to be able to celebrate local history and Essex female identity.
The Queen’s has a strong history with musicals…
It does. That’s why I really wanted to start with a musical. It’s a musical that does stuff. It’s really life-affirming, very funny, has got great tunes in it, and is a really simple but fantastic story. We also get the opportunity to strip it right back. Obviously it’s not going to be as big as it was in the West End, so we’ve stripped the cast back to an actor-musician company of 21. It’s a big piece of ensemble storytelling.
How are you involving the local community?
What I’m doing at the Queen’s is trying to find a way in which our main house programme can connect with the participatory work we’re doing. So we’ve just got some funding to do an outreach project in which we’re going to train young women to interview and record the women who were involved in the Ford strikes from 1968 to 1984. It went on that long; the musical and the film make it feel like they stopped – that they achieved everything in 1968 – but the skilled workers didn’t get reclassified until 1984. We get to extend the story in the musical by making a digital project based on an oral history from our audiences. It means I get to do a lot of lovely stuff and make it a much fuller project.
We also get to celebrate these great female roles, which is unusual for a contemporary piece. So it does a whole number of things. One of the great things that will shape the production is the very fact that lots of the audience may have worked there or know people who worked there. My mum worked at Ford Dagenham. There’s a respect for that experience. Not everything in musicals is real life – you have particular emotional heights, which are totally different from a film or documentary – but it still retains the respect for that experience.
Made in Dagenham is an obvious choice, but where do you go next in terms of your community remit?
I’m looking to commission work to fulfil this, but it’s tricky. You want the venue to really operate on a community-based level, but it also has to work on a national level as well. This project is really lovely because we get to do our outreach work, and it’s a co-production, so it goes to Ipswich – another great regional venue. Looking to the future, I want to commission new work that does this. There’s a really strong history of music in Essex, particularly in popular culture, so that would be great to play around with in the future.
For example, the next piece after Made in Dagenham is A Month of Sundays by Bob Larbey. It’s a comedy from the 1980s – a lost West End comedy – about ageing. It’s quietly ahead of its time, looking at ageing and dementia. I’m looking to programme stuff that’s meaningful for our audiences and the London Borough of Havering has the largest ageing population of all the boroughs in London. So a play about ageing is pertinent and significant and will give us the opportunity to do a lot of work around it, such as our first dementia-friendly performances. So there are lots of ways our main house can work on a national level and also have a connection to its local audience.
The Queen’s also has a regular community theatre production…
Yes, the theatre has a really strong history of doing a community musical every two years. There were over 60 participants in our latest show – Our House, the Madness musical – and it was directed by Ros Philips, a professional director. Members of the community not only perform, they get involved in stage management, design aspects, and so on. There’s a strong history of this here so it will be lovely to play around with this in the future.
Also, I directed Much Ado About Nothing in the spring, and we had a community chorus in that. What I’m trying to do is make sure that every piece we do is connected in some kind of way… that has deeper effect beyond the traditional audience-performer relationship. So doing the outreach work for Dagenham and releasing that as a digital project will have a deeper impact beyond the traditional experience. It’s about tying everything together.
Do you remember the role of regional theatre when you were growing up?
Yeah, I grew up in Colchester so the Mercury Theatre was the place I went to. I probably didn’t go to the theatre until I was about 16. I got involved because I had brilliant drama teachers and did a lot of drama at school. I didn’t really go to the theatre until much later on. My family weren’t theatre-going – I grew up on a council estate – so it took a degree of confidence to walk into that building, particularly because the audience was much older than I was.
I used to get a £2 standby ticket, so once I’d started going, I used to see everything in the seasons when I was 16, 17, 18. So yes, regional theatre was a really important part of my connection with the arts. Then I did my traineeship at the Salisbury Playhouse; I was there for two years. Professionally, I’ve worked internationally, in London and lots of venues around the UK, but I’ve an incredible fondness for regional buildings because of their place within their community. It’s always been a passion of mine to run a building myself.
Sort of. Actually, it’s not the power, it’s the responsibility. It’s the responsibility to nourish and entertain and to be part of – and shape – the community. It’s a responsibility for future audience and theatre-makers. Yes, there’s a great joy in being able to give people jobs – that’s wonderful – and bringing in practitioners that you’re excited by. But there’s also an incredible responsibility. Particularly now, in terms of social cohesion, which is possible through the arts.
There’s also a view that theatre is elitist, which regional theatre can help combat…
Absolutely. Having worked in a number of buildings, the reason that I was so attracted to running Hornchurch was that it does that brilliantly. It’s not an elitist audience at Hornchurch. In terms of social positioning, it’s a really open building – it’s being used by lots of different groups in the community. It’s not playing to an elitist audience, it’s actually a brilliantly mixed audience. It’s tricky but doable with our funding situation.
How are you funded?
We’re an NPO [National Portfolio Organisation, one of 663 arts bodies that benefit from £1 billion in public money over three years] and we get funding from the local council. But we’re not as fortunate as some regional buildings, so most of our funding comes from the box office.
* Made in Dagenham continues at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch until 17 September, then transfers to the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich from 21 September until 15 October.
Readers may also be interested in:
Made in Dagenham – Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch – Review