(On tour until February 25)
It’s always interesting coming to see a play about which you know next to nothing, and a surprise when it turns out that you cannot recall anything
about a cause célebrè even if it was some time ago. All the more so because it is a situation still htting the headlines today, and based on a true story. Back in the 90s, a group of asylum seekers were sent up to Scotland, and a few years later, a Roma schoolgirl is suddenly to be deported to Kosovo, which has been officially deemed as ‘safe’. The entire community rallies round, but Agnesa’s case is one of many, so the campaign continues to try and prevent children being sent back to where they came from. They have made their home over here, and their hearts really do belong to Glasgow, where even doing homework makes them happy.
Such a potentially tragic story may seem an odd choice for a musical. However, as Noreen (the doughty Terry Neason) explains, words sung rather than uttered speak more directly to our emotions. It is also a clever way of putting facts across without their being too much affected by preachiness. And they stick, eg: Scotland’s population is going down, and Britain is not in fact top of the table for immigrants, it comes 34th (2010).
Interestingly, the setting is reminscent of the one in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, only its poor cousin, taking up a good part of the stage to pass for run down tenement flat, school and playground. Similarly, while the songs range from upbeat to downcast, the music is frequently a reflection of the different cultures.
One of the most remarkable aspects of a play which is also concerned with identity, although identifying everything clearly proves tricky at times: people; places; arguments; attitudes etc, is the amazing cast. Each girl stands out. But we’ll start with the adults, and the aforementioned Terry Neason is a delight as the unconventional headmaster. Callum Cuthberton is also excellent as the girls’ teacher, Mr Girvan, and takes his turn as a Scottish Minister and various fathers (although that does get a bit confusing). The splendidly named Patricia Panther proves variety is the spice of life, including good cop/bad cop, as well as one of the girls. Similarly, Kara Swinney (Emma) is an authoritative schoolgirl, and poignant as a mother, with an incredible voice, Then Mr Girvan wants to know the girls’ skills so that they may best be utilised: the political one is Roza (Sophia Lewis); Jennifer (a laid back Shannon Swan) is persuasive; Aryana Ramkhalawon (Amal) is serious and studious – and the endearing Ewelina (Stephanie McGregor) loves baking cakes.
Although some of the dialogue goes awry, the girls act, sing and dance with such delight and fervour, the audience all but joins in. So well done to Cora Bissett and her creative team for an informative and entertaining production, and to the Playhouse for helping to spread the word about it.