Review: Glasgow Girls, Stratford East ✭✭✭✭✭

Glasgow Girls is as brilliant a new British musical as London has seen in years. Receiving its London premier at Stratford East, Cora Bissett’s thrilling production deserves an extended life.

Bursting with youthful energy, Glasgow Girls follows the true story of six Glaswegian schoolgirls. Asylum seekers hailing from war-torn countries and locals band together to fight against the injustice of the immigration system in Britain, which threatens to condemn their friends to certain death by sending them back to their home countries. The predominant theme that emerges is the optimism and vigour of youth battling against the obstinate older generations.

It is a category-redefining musical that pulls together musical styles as contrasting as electronic grime, reggae-dub,rap and folk/rock. This matches the diversity of the people depicted in the story; each of the communities presented finds a musical identity in the score – be that the aggressive, electronic dissonance of the police, the harmonious folk of the English teacher, or the Balkan vocals of the asylum seekers.

Sievewright’s vocal performance is one of the strongest in the cast and her portrayal of Jennifer is as tender as it is gutsy

David Greig’s witty book is superb; he coherently creates theatrical brilliance from the true stories. The key factor in his success is not ignoring the audience; the performers address the audience directly, creating a captivating sense of play as they re-enact the past. Avoiding naturalism prevents patronising both the audience and the real people represented, and does justice to their stories.

The standout performance of the night comes from Dawn Sievewright as Jennifer, who emerges as the centre of the group of girls. Sievewright’s vocal performance is one of the strongest in the cast and her portrayal of Jennifer is as tender as it is gutsy; her sung argument with her father is one of the show’s highlights. Hers is a young star on the rise.

Patricia Panther gives an astounding performance in a variety of roles, particularly in her rapped electronic grime numbers as a hostile police officer. Most of the adults are played by Callum Cuthbertson and Myra McFadyen, who particularly shines as the endearing neighbour Noreen in the second act’s rousing opening number.

The only problem with Glasgow Girls is the exaggerated demonisation of the police officers, who are represented as cold, heartless cogs in the machine that is ‘The System’. Of course, this is slightly two-dimensional, but seems to suit the youthful perspective of the girls on whom the show centres.

The production is commendable across the board. Musical director and arranger Hilary Brooks draws a brilliant sound from cast and band alike. Merle Hensel’s bold set design, suggesting the concrete high-rises of Glasgow, is brilliantly exploited by Bissett while Lizzie Powell’s aggressively colourful lighting design is remarkable, and is complemented flawlessly by Fergus O’Hare’s sound design.

New British musical writing is woefully under-funded and under-produced. Therefore, the triumph of Glasgow Girls deserves to be trumpeted from the rooftops. The show makes bold statements politically and theatrically, and would be the perfect new kid on the block in London’s West End. It would be a crime to miss this show.

***** (5 stars)
Runs until 2nd March
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