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A CurtainUp London London Review
Glasgow Girls

There are parts of the city that are pretty shitty but at least it's not Baghdad. — Chorus
Glasgow Girls
Patricia Panther and cast
(Photo: Robert Day)
Just as the Theatre Royal Stratford East announces next year's revival after 50 years of Joan Littlewood's Oh What A Lovely War the musical that started there, into that theatre comes a musical from Scotland very much about the twenty first century. Glasgow Girls is a passionate defence of the asylum seeker through the medium of a musical and the adaptation of a true life story.

Cora Bissett continues to impress with her expert handling of political subjects and making of them entrancing theatre. Her production of Roadkill go here raised the awareness in the community as a whole of child trafficking for prostitution. She also has to her credit acting and singing in David Greig's outstanding Midsummer go here and David Greig has penned Glasgow Girls.

Glasgow Girls is based on a group of schoolgirl asylum seekers who took on the UK Border Agency's arrest of one of their classmates, Agnesa (Roanna Davidson) from Kosovo who with her family is put into a detention centre. Under the guidance of their English teacher, Mr Girvan (Callum Cuthbertson) the girls set about gathering names on a petition and eventually get to go to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Agnesa and her family are freed as a result of their case being looked into and the girls win an award for their campaign. They continue to fight for others threatened with repatriation.

Imaginatively directed, an impossibly small cast of nine, play the seven main girls and everyone else. They will all dress as police in black and white and choreographed in arrest mode they will move as a squad under spotlight cones. Patricia Panther, a black Glaswegian singer and composer is particularly impressive in, "AT IT", her own composition about the commonly held prejudices about asylum seekers. She stands with her elbows bent and her hands behind her waist and delivers the character assassination of these migrants in her powerful voice.

When the teacher first meets the girls and is teaching them English he tries to find a reference point and starting with the word home and draws a house. He invites them to draw their home and they respond but one girl chillingly draws herself blindfolded and someone pointing a revolver at her head. The educational aim of Glasgow Girls is blended with wit and humanity.

I very much liked Amaka Okafor as Amal, the girl from Somalia, who in "Don't Rock the Boat", is cautioned by her mother (Patricia Panther) not to continue campaigning. Amaka Okafor moves beautifully and has a strong, sweet voice. The idiosyncratic teacher, poltical activist and expert on the poetry of Robert Burns, Mr Girvan (lone male cast member Callum Cuthbertson) plays the guitar and sings and plays myriad male characters, policemen, politicians and the like. It is a brilliant ensemble production, with slick costume changes and everyone working hard with set piece choreography which fits the scene. A change of costume and posture transforms school girls into adults. This is great, imaginative direction! Myra McFadyen plays local resident Noreen (and the headmaster) who make us smile when she tells us that she doesn't want to be in a musical. As Noreen breaks the bad news that the African family have been flown back to their home country, the cast run with sheets from the washing line by the back stair. Dawn Sievewright plays Jennifer the native Glaswegian girl at school with the others.

The set is a concrete block of flats on four floors. The concrete is grim and stained but it gives different playing levels and can be excitingly lit. Lizzie Powell's superb lighting sometimes has tartan patterns, but can be dark and atmospheric with strong shadows or suspenseful like the police raids.

Some of the music has been composed by the Glasgow born, Reggae Dub rapper Sumati Bhardwaj (Soom T), Patricia Panther's "electronic grime" compositions, folk/rock songs from Cora Bissett and songs from composers John, Gerry and Martin Kielty. The feel for me was of lots of energy and rock music blended with other gritty popular music and some tuneful ballads.

Glasgow Girls could be as big as Blood Brothers given the chance. On opening night, the real life teachers, and school girls now in their 20s were invited up onto the stage in a moment of pure emotion as they stood next to the actor playing them.

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Glasgow Girls
Written by David Greig
Director and Composer: Cora Bissett
Composers: The Kielty Brothers, Sumati Bhardwaj (Soom T), Patricia Panther.

Starring: Callum Cuthbertson, Amiera Darwish, Roanna Davidson, Myra McFayden, Stephanie McGregor, Joanne McGuinness, Amaka Okafor, Patricia Panther, Dawn Sievewright
Set and Costume Design: Merle Hensel
Lighting Design: Lizzie Powell
Sound Design: Fergus O'Hare
Original Score: Simon Slater
Choreographer: Natasha Gilmore
Musical Director and Arranger: Hilary Brooks
Jointly produced by the National Theatre of Scotland, Citizens Theatre Glasgow, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Pachamama Productions and Richard Jordan Productions.
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 8534 0310
Booking to 2nd March 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 13th February 2013 at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford East, London E15 1BN (Rail/Tube: Stratford)

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Opening
  • To A Mouse
  • We Are The Glasgow Girls
  • Going Somewhere
  • Sign The Petition
  • AT IT
  • Our Dreams Are Kites
  • Jennifer's Song
  • Tell The Kids It's Over
Act Two
  • It's No A Wean's Choice
  • Cuff You
  • We Are Going To Parliament
  • I Have A Dream
  • Don't Rock The Boat
  • Jack, Jack, What's The Crack
  • From the 16th Floor
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