Assembly Hall (venue 35)
4th – 28th Aug (not 10th, 15th, 22nd)
In 1999 a number of asylum seekers were moved to Glasgow and their children started attending schools there: a number of them were sent to Drumchapel High. In 2005, with the children settling in and beginning to feel at home, one of the girls at the school, Agnesa Murselaj, suddenly disappeared – the Home Office had sent officials in a dawn raid, intending to deport Agnesa and her family. Her friends were outraged and horrified, and wanted to do what they can to help her: thus began a campaign which started off in tiny ways and snowballed, bringing to public notice the plight of asylum seekers in Scotland, and particularly the injustice towards their children, whom the laws of Scotland were designed to protect, but which Home Office regulations could over-rule because “this was not a devolved matter” and Holyrood was powerless to intervene. The girls met [and publicly told off] First Minister Jack McConnell, and gained a number of awards.
We are introduced to the girls and hear their individual stories, we learn how hard they found life in their new country, and how isolated they felt: it was through their English lessons with Mr Girvan that they firstly learned to express themselves and then gained the inspiration to tackle the enormous task ahead of them. We meet Nora, a feisty neighbour, who explains the political situation, comments on the action and describes the growing engagement of the whole community – when a five-year-old boy and his mother are removed in a dawn raid for deportation, she laments that “he’s just a wee boy in a big boy’s game” and vocalises the growing public feeling that “they’re Scotland’s weans now… over my dead body you’ll take them away”. We also see the excessive force used in the dawn raids, the inhumanity of the officials who deal with the applications for asylum, and the many misconceptions about asylum seekers – “they take our jobs” – they’re not allowed to work; “they’re all ‘at it’”, “they’re scroungers out for what they can get”, “they’re liars and cheats” – when what we see are people who have fled a life of terror and persecution and simply want to get on and live their lives in peace.
The cast are hugely talented and double up any number of parts, switching from comedy to menace or tragedy in an instant, and rarely letting the energy of the performance flag. I particularly loved the transformation of Nora into the deliberately blinkered headmaster, and of Mr Girvan into a gold-jacketed rock star Jack McConnell, and appreciated, while hating, the chilling inhumanity of the Home Office people. The set is simple but used to great effect; the lighting and sound effects enhance the drama. The music is stirring, moving, catchy and effective: the recorded backing to the songs is augmented by an on-stage violinist and various cast members’ instruments.
The subject might seem a grim and depressing, but Scots playwright David Greig and producer Cora Bisset have created a masterpiece which crackles with electric energy, and uses humour and high-octane music to put across its challenging message: it doesn’t matter how small and powerless you feel, you can effect change, even in small things, if you are prepared to try. It’s a very ‘Weegie’ show, and I wondered how many of the audience would understand the language and the humour, not to mention the political comments, but from the fired-up response to the show, that’s not a problem!
It’s more than ten years since the Glasgow Girls hit the headlines, but the problems they highlighted are still with us, and add to the tensions between Scotland and Westminster – where will it end? When the disheartened girls complain that they keep on fighting and they keep on losing, Nora comments “Welcome to Scotland” – which nearly brings the house down! How many of the people in the audience will be moved to do something about injustices they perceive? What will you do?
Go and see the show – that’s a start!