This article about about three new scholarship places for asylum seekers at Strathclyde University got me thinking again about the inspiring Glasgow Girls and the musical which was subsequently produced about their story. Read on for a blog post I wrote elsewhere after seeing the musical last year…
A musical about asylum seekers – how wrong could that possibly be? As it turns out, it was BRILLIANT (that’s an emphatic brilliant).
Glasgow Girls was based on a on a true story about a group of school girls who come together to campaign to get their friend out of detention. They were passionate about standing up to injustice and refused to shut up about it. They danced around the stage – a grimy grey tower block – with teenage energy and optimism. They made petitions, shouted at the powers that be, got despondent when they realised that life sometimes sucks, but picked themselves up again to end the show in an energetic flurry of hope and possibility.
Of course it was serious. How could it not be when it was dealing with issues like dawn raids and the detention and forced removal of children? When it was presenting the arbitrariness of ‘the system’ and showing people lose faith in the law as an instrument of justice? When it was capturing the tensions in poor neighbourhoods where everyone was trying to survive and keep going, fearful of those around them who seemed such a threat?
One of the most poignant scenes for me was the father of one of the ‘Glasgow girls’ doing the ironing in his suit. In her hurt and frustration, his daughter shouted at him for wearing it when he wasn’t even entitled to work, but her mother rebuked her. His suit is his armour, she said, he wears it to protect who he is. The play was heavy with questions of home and identity, and beautifully captured the intergenerational tensions as asylum-seeking children negotiated their place in the gloomy city they had come to love as their own.
But it was also funny and ordinary and bizarrely real. It was full of Iron Bru, crisps, teenage normality and anti-English Scottishness. It was about regular people who get involved, not because they really understood the politics but because they refused to see their neighbours picked off one by one.
And making it a musical was perfect. The songs were infused with music from a range of different cultural traditions, and somehow it was the best format for painting the tragic realities of many people seeking asylum in the UK and their horrific treatment at the hands of those who see themselves as securing the nation’s borders. It captured poignancy and emotion in a way that words would fail to do, but it also drew on musicals’ cheese-factor to enable a brilliant sense of humour to prevail which made us warm to the characters not just their cause. You couldn’t help smiling when they sang emotionally-charged songs about their love of Glasgow (which they found to be ‘surprisingly OK’) and by the end it was impossible to not want to be a ‘Glasgow girl’ yourself. (I have even downloaded the title song so that it can inspire me on the way to work.)
As this ‘life-affirming’ musical worked its magic on us, we laughed, we cried and left with huge smiles on our faces. I wished it hadn’t been the final performance because it was more than just a great night out. It was one of the most powerful advocacy tools I have encountered for a long time and made me wonder if musicals – rather than writers/ponderers/practitioners like me – are the best way forward…