REVIEW: Glasgow Girls, Theatre Royal Stratford East

This heartwarming musical about asylum seekers as seen through the eyes of a group of teenage girls has plenty to say but the music lets it down. 

Glasgow Girls. Photo credit: Andrew Wilson. 

David Greig and Cora Bissett’s confrontational musical is based on the real life Glasgow Girls who campaigned for a change in the law for the policy of detaining children for immigration purposes.

As the musical makes clear, by the end of 2001, Glasgow had around 8000 temporary citizens who had been moved to the city on a no choice basis – many were families with children.

Everything about this musical is based on fact – including the incident when 15 year old Agnesa Mursela was dawn raided and detained with her family, leading to her friends (many of them also asylum seekers) to join forces and create the Glasgow Girls – campaigning on her and other families behalf.

It is one of the most honest musicals and pieces of theatre about the topic which is extremely relevant now – never over sentimentalising  the issue, yet creating characters that are instantly likeable and charming, believing in their passion to make a difference from beginning to end.

Cora Bisstett’s production is chilling and effective, particularly when the audience sees Agnesa detained, scared and uncertain about her future – helped by the effective and sharp lighting by Lizzie Powell, flickering rapidly – matching the terror and urgency of the situation perfectly.

The matter of fact way in which facts are delivered by all the cast are a stark reminder of how relevant and sensitive this issue is.When the girls talk on a radio station with a variety of people on the topic it reveals exactly how divisive the subject is, but the production constantly urges the audience to be compassionate and it works – by the end we are left wondering how the system could be changed.

But what let’s the production down is the music. Many of the songs seem oddly out of place and a distraction from the story which packs a punch. Songs such as ‘Don’t Rock the Boat’ and ‘Still in Our Hands’ feel slightly superficial and don’t add anything to the story which would be better communicated by speech.

Glasgow Girls could also do without the little asides, for example when Noreen explains she didn’t want to be in a musical feels a little bit pointless, even though it is delivered with great comic timing by Terry Neason. Again, it takes away from the focus of the audience, the strong message of the piece.

All of the cast deliver in their performances, each of the girls themselves providing great feistiness, passion  and determination that you can easily will them to succeed. Terry Neason is wonderfully compassionate, sensitive as Noreen and yet beneath has a will of iron as she talks about the lengths the community will go to to protect the asylum seekers from deportation. Meanwhile, Callum Cuthbertson as Mr Girvan is a solid presence, guiding the girls through their campaign and encouraging them not to give up.

A great piece of drama, but Glasgow Girls needs more work musically for it to be convincing as a musical. But this is still worth a watch in terms of the uplifting but powerful nature of the story itself and it will manage to restore your faith in humanity.

Glasgow Girls will play at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until the 1st October. For more information and to book tickets visit:

Rating: ❤❤❤❤


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