Edinburgh Fringe 2016
In the late 1990s, asylum seekers were dispersed around the UK away from London and the south east of England. Glasgow was the only Scottish local authority to agree to take asylum seekers (maybe because of its excess housing). When dawn raids started and families were rounded up to be deported, communities and even schoolgirls took a stand. David Greig and Cora Bissett made a musical about it.
Assembly’s revival of Cora Bissett and David Greig’s big feisty musical, Glasgow Girls hasn’t lost any of its big heartedness and uplifting quality. While its story is set back in the 1990s, many of its messages are just as timely today and to current debates about asylum seekers.
Based on real life events when Glasgow schoolgirls from Drumchapel High came together to fight the deportations of fellow schoolgirls and asylum seekers who had made the city their home.
Using a musical format allows the production to dispel myths about asylum seekers and put forward political points to a wider audience. Glasgow girls is a heartfelt tribute to the power of youth, community activism and to Glasgow itself. No fairy tale, no happy endings, this is a tale of the reality of political protest. David Greig and Cora Bissett have hit on a winning formula to convey the power and strength of ordinary communities.
The success of the production is due in no small part to the actors playing the Glasgow girls. Roanna Davidson, Sophia Lewis, Stephanie McGregor, Shannon Swan, Kara Swinney and Aryana Ramkhalawon put in performances of such vim and vigour that it’s impossible not to be swept along in their tide. As an ensemble they interact brilliantly in both song and movement, and put in stalwart individual performances. Terry Neason provides a welcome reminder that resistance to the Borders and Immigration Agency dawn raids was part of a larger community effort. She belts out a show stopping number that is a highlight of the musical. Callum Cuthbertson plays the girls’ teacher and is a warm comic anchor throughout the story.
The production is not without its problems. Although, overall the story and message remain highly relevant and speak to our current situation, political references to former First Minister, Jack McConnell, and Scottish Socialist Party MSPs date the play and place it firmly in another era. The musical has a varied soundtrack with songs from a variety of genres; inevitably some work better than others (though obviously this is, to some extent, a matter of personal taste). As well as their variable quality, some of the songs simply seem unnecessary or not to move the plot along sufficiently. Basing a play on real life events can mean that it doesn’t quite fit the dramatic form, and there are times when this is true of Glasgow Girls.
But these are paltry reservations against a show that fairly zings and fires its way along straight into the hearts and minds of an audience that is entirely won over by its life affirming enthusiasm and belief.