In the audience tonight are the Glasgow Girls in propia persona, perfecting one other’s make-up and share good-luck hugs – they appear nervous at the prospect of seeing their journey as drama, one so personal and entangled with their friendship. This gang of friends from the same school reacted to the forced deportation of their friend Agnesa Murselaj to mount an effective campaign against the dawn raids by police on their neighbours in Drumchapel estate, where families of asylum-seekers were being routinely cast out into the night and escorted from the country.
They needn’t have been nervous, as this sense of female solidarity and mutual support is carried by Cora Bissett and David Greig in their musical adaptation of the Glasgow Girls’ story, a production which retains careful respect for both the girls and their message. Musicals are an oft-maligned form; campness and emotional indulgence can be off-putting, a broad lack of subtletly can alienate more thoughtful audiences. However this musical is sharp, intelligent and energetic, and with the help of reggae hip-hop artist Sumati Bhardwai, intelligently blends culturally diverse musical textures. Once the initial uncertainty of the cast bursting into song at every opportunity subsides, it is apparent Bissett couldn’t have chosen any other form. The physical and emotional energy of the girls bonds the audience together in a way indicative of the community which is such a large part of the girls’ lives: laughing together, singing together and eventually swaying in the aisles.
The production shows the girls fighting for their friend who is threatened with being returned to her native Kosovo. In this way Glasgow Girls highlights the iniquities of a racist system which deals with asylum seekers via blanket processes, failing to account for individual circumstances. The girls’ voice specific concerns with how the issue of asylum is tackled in Scotland, where population is in decline and many tower blocks are empty. Their anger finds constitutional expression in a Holyrood parliament unable to make its own decisions, illustrated by the catchy ‘What’s the Craic, Jack?’ which pokes at the continuing impotence of a Scottish Government – then headed by former first minister Jack McConell – on such matters. Dawn Sievewright’s brilliant impression of Tommy Sheridan, full of macho puffing and posturing, juxtaposes neatly with the girls’ forceful and passionate campaign.
Glasgow Girls is not only a tale of the plight of those seeking asylum, but also a powerful ode to an under-sung city known often through Frankie Boyle-type descriptions of poverty, drug dependency and violence, representations of the city blighted by an ‘issue-driven’ media presence. This piece underlines the pride and sense of belonging for a place which many people – both indigenous Scots and those from farther afield – call ‘home’, love for the city running like the Clyde through the heart of many of its residents.
Glasgow Girls not only offers a superbly entertaining and politically charged night at the theatre, but also encourages its audience to look deeper at the world and see the victories youth can accomplish. It is proof of a community which, although we are often told no longer exists, still manages to triumph. The production is a rallying call against apathy, an incitement to get at the real stories behind the headlines. To top it off, the real Glasgow Girls are welcomed on-stage, teetering nervously in too-high heels; they inform us that we are welcome into their gang, and remind us of the power even a small group of passionate individuals can have. Anyone can be a Glasgow Girl – by standing up together for those around us we can create real change.