Musicals and random acts of bureaucracy: Glasgow Girls
Theatre Royal Stratford is often the home of raw and energetic productions. The Glasgow Girls which concludes its run here tonight keeps up this tradition. Set in a rough council block in Glasgow, it tells the story of what happens when the Home Office decides to relocate asylum seekers into the area while their applications are processed. While there might have been expected tensions between the locals and the new arrivals, five years on this didn't happen. Instead local and migrant girls bond and when their Kosovan schoolfriend disappears after a dawn raid, they lead the fight to campaign for the rights of the children of asylum seekers.
The fight to see their schoolfriend returned leads them to discover the long drawn out processes that asylum seekers face and how the options for appealing decisions are limited and narrow. Any success is a based on perseverance and a legal team that can search for loopholes. The role the girls play in this is less about what they actually did and more about their passion in doing it.
It is a powerful and inspiring story and the show works by combining music, dance and comedy to tell a story of community spirit and injustice. It is led by a cast of seven women who deliver some powerful singing and incredibly energetic dancing to hold the piece together. To mix it up a little there is also a wonderful performance by Myra McFadyen as a neighbour who speaks to the audience about not wanting to be in a musical, and then promptly breaking into song.
A musical about asylum seekers and based on real life events is challenging enough subject matter and the creative team manage for the most part to keep things on track without the show becoming overly sentimental. The musical styles are varied and work best when capturing the raw emotion of living in limbo and being a second class citizen.
If anything in the attempt to cover all sides of the story weakens the its impact. The musical numbers to explain the motivations of the bureaucracy and the Border Agency don't seem to add much (particularly since the Agency itself wasn't set up until 2008 - three years after when the piece was set). These numbers also are at the expense of a chance to gain further insight into the families who claimed asylum. Why they fled, the difficulties they faced, and how after the years of waiting for their application to be processed by the slow moving Home Office they became part of the Glaswgow community could have been explored further.
Still, there is much to admire in this piece that provides a refreshing positive perspective on refugees in Britain that you won't read in the press. There is also a terrific set that stylises a rough Glaswegian council block that is their home and where they feel safe.
The show has finished its run in Stratford but keep an eye out for where it heads to next...