Wednesday, February 22, 2017

“Save our Neighbours” – high energy musical Glasgow Girls highlights Scottish asylum campaign (The MAC until 25 Feb)

No sooner has one piece of political theatre left The MAC – Entitled is touring through Bangor, Newry and Derry this week – than another bounces onto the main stage of the Belfast venue.
“Your asylum request has been refused … Your removal must be enforced”

When a fellow pupil failed to turn up at a Glasgow school one morning in 2005 – detained with her family in a dawn raid by the UK Border Agency and sent back to England to await deportation – her school mates set about raising public awareness and challenging the asylum system.

Their Glasgow Girls campaign reached the Scottish Parliament with the Green Party triggering a debate that voiced concern about how children in Scotland were being treated when families are removed for deportation.

This high-energy musical theatre production centres around the seven girls and their bilingual language support teacher Mr Girvan. Songs are accompanied by a pumping backing track and live fiddle and guitar. The fighting spirit of the city of Glasgow is celebrated – despite the early lyric “There’s bits of the city that are really shitty” – along with the broad welcome that asylum seekers received upon dispersal up to Scotland.
“It’s no their war; It’s no their sin”
Musical styles are varied with electronic grime, reggae-dub, folk-rock and the Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell conjured up as a glittering Elvis. The recreation of the debate in the Scottish Parliament which led to the promise that dawn raids and detention would not be used in cases involving families with children in Scotland is one of the most powerful scenes of the production.

The set consists of a playground climbing frame that provides performers with a couple of different levels and steps. The performers are individually micced and the sound design makes good use of echo and reverb to enhance the dialogue and singing. The choreography is very precise and director Cora Bissett has kept a good pace to the show while still allowing some intimate and emotional moments to flourish.

In-between the singing and dancing there’s quite a lot of audience education about the asylum system. The script doesn’t shy away from discussing anti-asylum sentiment, allowing some “I fear that they’re over hear to live for free” voices to be heard and largely rebutted. An older woman Noreen acts as the common (wo)man, not afraid to break the fourth wall to let the audience into her world of neighbourhood watch and offers a commentary on the less than successful campaign.

It’s a testament to the show that the unfinished nature of the campaign and the lack of fulsome political follow-through is core to the second half and a happy ending was not concocted. Instead Glasgow Girls finishes with a powerful call to action to “save our neighbours” no matter where we are.

I overheard one teenage lad leaving the theatre last night exclaiming “that was amazing!” to others in a youthful group who had attended the opening night.

Glasgow Girls is a wake-up call to the harsh outworking of UK asylum policy and the show’s revival and tour by Pachamama Productions is timely given the continued political and media focus on migration and asylum. It plays in The MAC until 25 February.

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