Energetic and driven, Glasgow Girls at the Assembly Hall has definite imperfections, but sweeps the audience along on a tide of politically charged fun.
Cora Bissett and David Greig’s musical, presented by Pachamama Productions, National Theatre of Scotland and Regular Music, deals with the true story of a group of teenagers who fought the deportations of asylum seekers. Its success up to now has been at least partly due to its application of the style of a feelgood musical to emotive political issues.
The use of techniques from the popular end of the theatrical spectrum – such as pantomimish, self-referential breaking of the fourth wall – can sit oddly with the subject matter. Greig’s text, while clever, occasionally strains a little too hard for comic effect, with a cartoonish edge here that threatens to derail proceedings. In a celebration of Glasgow that acknowledges both its advantages and disadvantages, it is a shame to hear tired old jokes about Scotland (and other places too).
In the end, however, it is all rescued by the sheer conviction of the production. The performers playing the ‘girls’ – Roanna Davidson, Sophia Lewis, Stephanie McGregor, Shannon Swan, Kara Swinney and Aryana Ramkhalawon – are energetic, committed and thoroughly impressive. Callum Cuthbertson, as the girls’ teacher, provides a sturdy comic presence, while Terry Neason’s huge, expressive voice comes close to stopping the show.
The music, by Patricia Panther (who also appears on stage), the Kielty Brothers, Soom T and Bissett herself, cleverly combines a variety of styles and traditions, and is well served by Natasha Gilmore’s choreography.
Bissett’s direction, and Jessica Brettle’s clever set, lead to a dynamic, fluid production full of spectacle. Not only does its vibrant celebration of inclusion and diversity hit home, there are also necessary counterbalances to the prejudices, misinformation and outright lies peddled about asylum seekers.
Things have changed; the portrayals of Jack McConnell and Tommy Sheridan seem to come from a period of Scottish politics already long gone, but the show’s message is more vital than ever in a year when transparent racism seems to have become an acceptable – and appallingly successful- mainstream political tactic.
Unfortunately, such developments cannot help but make Glasgow Girls come across as less of a feelgood prodiont as a feelangry one – or at the very least feeldisappointed.
But as a piece of theatre, its political and human impact is still considerable.
Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Assembly Hall (Venue 35), Mound Place, EH1 2LU
Thurs 4 – Sun 28 August 2016 (not Wed 10,Mon 15, Mon 22)
Daily at 2.20 pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/glasgow-girls
Company website: http://www.corabissett.co.uk
NTS website: https://www.nationaltheatrescotland.com/content/
NTS twitter: @ntsonline