A specially built life-size model of a #Ford
Cortina stars in the West End stage version of the film Made in Dagenham. Martin Gurdon goes behind the scenes to find out more.
Angel of the north sculptor Anthony Gormley often uses casts of his own body when making his famous statues. Simon Kenny did much the same thing to a Mk2 #Ford-Cortina
. Kenny's Souvenir Studios makes sets and props for film, TV and theatre, and was commissioned to work on the Made in Dagenham musical, starring Jemma Arterton, and now running at London's Adel phi Theatre.
Much of the late-1960s plot takes place in a stylised Dagenham factory, and required a period Cortina. Kenny's search for a rust-free example took him from Crawley to Dumfries. He eventually paid £5500 cash to a man in Kettering, and drove his car back to London, completing the last 15 rush-hour miles stuck in second gear.
'The vendor parted company with the car with a tear in his eye and said "Look after her". Little did he know!'
The bodywork was waxed and a full mould taken, then the Mk2 was stripped so that castings of the seats, trim, mechanical parts and running gear could be made. 'Throughout the process we were busy sourcing trims, handles, seven steering wheels and other items' says Kenny. 'It was our intention to keep the car in reasonable condition to sell on.'
He also had access to spares cleared from the Kettering man's shed, 'to make room for his large Staffordshire Bull terrier'.
Many of the cast parts were incorporated into giant steel-framed backdrops that resembled Airfix kits. 'The Air fix thing is obviously fun, and all boys of a certain age know about it' says set and costume designer Bunny Christie, who came up with the idea.
The Adelphi's stage is surprisingly small, with very little space in the wings for storage. Watching the musical, I was gobsmacked at how a fast-moving, 30-strong cast shared it with a whirling selection of ever-changing backdrops, industrial sewing machines on trolleys, bumper cars, a #1947 #CJ27 #Willys-Jeep
, what at first sight looks like a spinning Cortina Crayford convertible, and a dancing Harold Wilson - all without bumping into each other.
'Stages can be dangerous, often dark, noisy places with lots of moving, heavy machinery' says Christie. 'The production becomes like a machine, with everyone moving in exactly the same way, night after night.'
Top and left. That steering wheel is one of seven that were required for the production; the #Ford-Cortina-Mk2
is a plastic model cast from the real thing; backdrop resembles a giant Airfix kit.
On close inspection the Cortina is a clever plastic fake. It took four months to build, using the mould taken from the donor car. The door frames are original, but with glassfibre skins, and the seats, steering wheel and switchgear are genuine. Under the floor, hydraulics lower a turntable so the car can spin on its own axis.
'The Cortina needed to drive on, hit a point on the stage and revolve, then a girl jump out of the boot. It had to take her weight and that of the people in the car when it was revolving, then drive off by itself, and be light enough so it didn't go through the stage' says Christie.
During one rehearsal the actor piloting it failed to raise the turntable, and found himself stuck, wheels spinning. 'He didn't forget after that' says Christie, for whom the Made In Dagenham project started about a year before the show opened, and involved two or three months of intensive activity in between other work. 'You're designing right up to the deadline' she says.
You'd expect 3D computer animation to be used, but time constraints mean Christie employs computers, hands-on design and model-making. 'As soon as something's hot off the desk it goes straight to the builders.' Given that a West End theatre that isn't open isn't making money, the workload is intense.
The stage area itself is gutted to allow bespoke tracks to go in to move the sets and other props, which all had to be craned into the theatre through a small, high, warehouse door that, with the plastic-bodied fake Cortina, was the source of some anxiety. Interestingly, one of Bunny Christie's favourite props is the jeep.
'With its original plain colour and markings, that's a really lovely thing,' says Christie. 'As the heart of the story is the factory, there's something about having multiples of stuff. It doesn't work unless all the bits work together. That's what it's like to work on a show, and it was a fun thing to get to grips with.'
As for the dismembered car that made all this possible: 'What was left of the original Cortina body and a medium-sized van of parts has been sold to a family in West Yorkshire, to be restored once again' says Simon Kenny.
So, apparently, no Ford Cortinas were hurt in the making of this musical.
Above, left and below. Creating the giant 'Airfix' kits off-site ready for the production - and the plastic Cortina too; the donor car came from Kettering after months of searching nationwide.