Mini-review – Glasgow Girls – Theater Royal Stratford East

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I’m late to the party but I wanted to get a quick review in for Glasgow Girls before it closes. I was tipped off to it by a very positive review in the Metro: given my cheerleading for Scotland and my personal interest in the experiences of (other) immigrants in the UK, I was very enthusiastic about the concept of a musical (?!) about some Glaswegian teenagers deciding to take on the Home Office when they decide to deport some refugees they’ve come to see as their own, their friends and neighbors. Sounded very uplifting: might it be cutesy, might it be too political? Or worse, might it be … boring?

I’m thrilled to say that this show hit exactly the right notes, neatly dodging the heavy-handedness typified by Earthquakes in London while actually managing to make a musical that beat both Top Hat and Singing in the Rain hands down as a singalonga good time. The show was quite honest both about the hostility of the residents of the tenements where the asylum seekers were moved into (as they went into the schools, the new arrivals raised both the average test scores and the results at the intermural football matches) and the general antipathy toward immigrants among many residents of the UK – one song dealt specifically with the beliefs people hold about them (i.e. “stealing jobs,” “they’re all working the system”). There was also some gritty reality about what life is like in Glasgow, starting with the first song’s comedy about the weather, but later on mentions of things like gang fights and lack of opportunity. And, thank goodness, there was an Irn Bru reference.

The show got right into the details of how the girls of one particular school could be motivated enough to organize a campaign to protect their friends from dawn raids, imprisonment, and being sent back to dangerous cities (deemed safe by UKBA), as well as the strange business of how devolution of Scotland is really working and the really hostile, Stalinistic way the UK government has handled peaceful families who have run afoul of its bureaucratic policies. And all of this was done with some fine, appropriately modern street-dance style numbers and great character development. I couldn’t believe I had actually managed to make it to that rare creature: a new musical that is both really awesome AND really political. I mean, crap, new plays have a hard time being political without becoming preachy; this musical had the manic attitude I associate with the British panto tradition. I really hope it made people angry while making them laugh; I could hardly ask for anything more, but I got it anyway: a genuinely good night out that well warranted my very late return home that night.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, March 1st, 2013. It closes March 2nd.)

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