Review: Glasgow Girls (Daily Telegraph)

Glasgow Girls, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

The new musical Glasgow Girls at the Citizens Theatre is a significant milestone in Scottish musical theatre, writes Mark Brown.

In 2005, seven girls from Drumchapel High School in Glasgow received the award for “Best Public Campaign” at the Scottish Politician of the Year Awards. Their achievement was to have campaigned so energetically against the deportation from the UK of one of their number (Kosovo Roma girl Agnesa Murselaj) and her family that, under growing political and legal pressure, the Blair government was forced to back down on its insistence that all Kosovo refugees were safe to return to their country of origin.

Seven years on, acclaimed Scottish dramatists Cora Bissett (who conceived and directed this show) and David Greig (who wrote the book) have taken the Glasgow Girls’ story as the basis for a highly accomplished piece of musical theatre, co-produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and, among others, the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. If Aidan Burley MP thought Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony was “multicultural crap”, one can only imagine what he would make of Bissett’s show.

As the play traces the highs and lows of the girls’ campaign – from Agnesa’s return to seeing another friend deported – the diverse music is impressive testament to artistic globalisation. The show does tip into occasional lyrical excess (at times information is imparted in song when it might be better spoken); but then, in true musical theatre tradition, more often than not the lyrics – such as in “Glasgow granny”, Noreen’s song about her sympathy for the asylum seeker children who are facing dawn raids and detention – are more emotive than informative.

Played on Merle Hensel’s bleak yet curiously versatile set (a grey, Glasgow high-rise block), and bristling with Scottish humour, Glasgow Girls will be long remembered for the astonishing talents, in both vocals and high energy dance, of the ensemble of young women who play the title roles. They are splendidly supported by Myra McFadyen (as Noreen) and Callum Cuthbertson (the girls’ teacher Mr Girvan).

Whatever one’s views on the vexed issue of UK asylum policy, by the time this show comes to its close – a fine musical montage built around Robert Burns’s famous poem “To a Mouse” – there can be little doubt that Bissett and co have created a significant milestone in Scottish musical theatre.

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on November 7, 2012

© Mark Brown

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