A musical about the brutal deportation failed asylums seekers in the UK can face is an unlikely premise for a successful theatre production. When the director, Cora Bissett, first approached the real Glasgow Girls – a group of teenagers at Drumchapel High School – they had their doubts. How would their story play out on a stage, let alone in a musical?
One day, the girls arrived at school and received appalling news: during the night their friend and her family were forced out of their home and removed to a detention centre. Agnesa and her family had come to Glasgow after fleeing from the life threatening dangers they faced in their home country, Kosovo. Initially the girls were shocked and upset, but this turned into a remarkable determination to seek out justice for their friend. The highly influential campaign launched by this group of girls, alongside their teachers and neighbours, came to be not only about Agnesa, but the rights of all children of asylum seekers in Scotland.
Bissett and her team tell this story with dignity and passion and – given the grim reality of the subject matter – real humour. It’s delightfully self-referential, bolshy and honest. The opening number cheekily tells the audience: ‘It’s an opening montage to let you know everything’s fine.’ Anxieties that the show makes too much light of a serious reality are understandable, but the humour achieved is not disrespectful or dismissive. Rather it facilitates entry into discussions about an urgent and dire social and political situation that many in the UK are not aware of and more still are apathetic towards.
There is not a single weak performance and the energy of the cast is inspiring. What is distinctive about this cast is that they seamlessly each take on a whole host of different performances in rapid succession: from politicians to children, from feisty neighbours to shuffling fathers (here Myra McFadyen must get a special mention for her dexterity and skill as an actress, and heart warming portrayal of Noreen, an elderly neighbour who joins the girls’ plight). All of this is housed within an innovative and intelligently crafted set, and enhanced by powerful lighting.
The actors’ range of dynamic as an ensemble is brilliant and spans from taught, emotional performances, to neat comic timing, to tight, high power choreography, and truly impressive vocals. I take my hat off especially to Patricia Panther for her striking performance of ‘Cuff You’ – a song she also composed. She plays the sadistic and gleeful Lead Immigration Officer figure, giving more than a nod to the brutality and indignity of current UK Border Agency treatment of the asylum seekers they declare unsuccessful.
If the production has a limitation, it’s that at moments the songs can seem a little lengthy, and this length slackens the momentum achieved in the first few numbers, but this certainly does not detract from the overall joy of watching this production. In fact, the character of Noreen attacks Bissett’s choice of genre to great effect. Music and song, she says, is for when ‘emotion gets too much for the spoken word.’ Noreen is fiercely protective of the children of asylum seekers on her block and retorts: ‘I can’t afford that. They don’t need my emotions, they need my protection.’ The corresponding song reaches the heart of the musical’s message: as Noreen sings ‘they’re my weans now,’ it becomes clear that the audience should leave the theatre understanding that citizenship and belonging to a place is not dependent on where you are born, or where you come from.
This is a show for musical fans; musical non-fans; theatre-goers; theatre-avoiders; the politically active; the politically shy (if this is you, try reading this); teenagers; adults; BBC haters; Daily Mail lovers; feminists; the feminism squeamish; independence supporters; non-independence supporters…
This is a show about people and this is a show for everyone.
Tickets for Glasgow Girls vary in price, but all prices are below £20. Students can see the show for £8.50. See here for more information.
National Collective Glasgow are hatching a plan to see the show on Friday 7 March (providing we can get the tickets). Feel free to join us – we’ll be sticking around for a drink after the show too.
Photograph by Drew Farrell