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Glasgow Girls (Glasgow)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Musical theatre is the land of opportunity for the oppressed and persecuted. A sanctuary for the reviled spectres which lurk beneath Opera Houses, the downtrodden Parisian factory worker and the immigrant who finds a home on the West Side, it is a genre which lends itself to the socially excluded. Give me your cold, your tired, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free… and Broadway will give them some theatrical rags to dress in, a kick-heel-turn and a torch song ballad to express their misery.

But that's not truly the case in David Greig and Cora Bisset's collaboration. In Glasgow Girls , there is no room for the blind pluck or happy endings of the Great White Way; this is the real world, kid, and optimism and endeavour can only take you so far in the world of politics.

This endearing musical of original songs tells the story of a group of young refugees who seek asylum in Glasgow from the horrors of Kosovo, Somalia, Iraq and Poland. Recognising the cold generalisation of the United Kingdom's immigration laws, the six high-school girls take a campaign to Holyrood, fighting for a judicial system which recognises the importance of individual circumstance, not the many labels which refugees carry with them from across the world.

Building on the success of Roadkill, her award-winning site-specific work, Cora Bissett has once again proven herself to be a Justice of the Peace in Scottish political theatre. The musical explores the inequities and cruelties of Human Rights issues in the UK through the people who are most affected by them, creating a highly-emotive piece which educates as it enthrals.

The production is bolstered by an energetic and enviable cast of actors who sing, dance and act well enough to bring that little bit of razzle dazzle to the Red Row flats and Drumchapel. Whilst the cast are uniformly entertaining, it is Dawn Sievewright and Amaka Okafor who excel as soft-centred Drumchapel wideo, Jennifer, and passionate Somalian refugee, Amal.

The performance of the night belongs to the incredibly named Patricia Panther, a commanding supporting actress to the main group who wins my award for the most incredible vocal performance in a musical of this year.

And yet this is by no means a perfect production to add to the National Theatre of Scotland's roll-call of recent successes. At times, particularly in the first act, the delivery and content of the David Greig's book feels not unlike a community education project written to change the ignorant hearts and minds of local bigots. That is part of its purpose, of course, but the play does not always have the sharpness or finesse that we expect of the writer. If Glasgow Girls was not so keen to parody the musical genre, the tone of the first act would at times feel condescending.

But this is a story of children who are forced to play in an adult world; the true drama of the piece lies in the shadowy voids where these two world overlap. This idea is beautifully realised in the music and lyrics of its both catchy and at times heartfelt score. Here, parents sing of patience whilst their children sing of change. These are songs for a new world. Here, the young asylum seekers sing to the percussion and rhythms of the homelands which spurned them, subtly capturing the themes of the play with both emotion and spirit.

As the play shows, the Scots as a people are sensitive to the trauma and tragedies of others. Burns watched a "timorous beastie" flee his home and turned it into something beautiful; similarly, Glasgow Girls undoes the spin and biases which surround the issue of asylum, smoothing them into a pleasing love letter to our great city, the communities who built it and the new faces who will continue to help it grow.

"Glasgow Girls" is at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, from 31 October until 17 November, 2012.