Review: Glasgow Girls, Theatre Royal Stratford East

We seem to be in the height of pop-group based musicals. We know that shows like We Will Rock You has been going strong for just over a decade, recently joined by Mamma Mia and of course the latest venture of Viva Forever. But the latest musical to hit London town doesn’t boast any celebrity endorsements or sing-a-long songs, sequin costumes or a nostalgic reliance on the familiar.

Glasgow Girls, now showing at the Theatre Royal Stratford East after its premiere in Glasgow’s Citizen Theatre, can really boast a true story take on girl power – and successfully delivers its ‘life affirming’ claim, leaving an overwhelmed audience feel more educated, entertained and enveloped in this fresh new musical.

If you’ve never been to the Theatre Royal Stratford East before, get down there soon. Behind the smart contemporary branding, wrapped up in the engaging atmosphere and just a stone’s throw from the station, is a glorious rich-coloured auditorium. From the welcoming feel of the friendly bar, we entered the auditorium, seeing the wonderful architecture of the late nineteenth century then beyond the proscenium arch were treated to a grey sprayed-concrete tower block, seen in most modern cities since the sixties, with Glasgow being the city that could boast the most.

The set was simple and effective, with the use of florescent lights and sounds to create a number of different locations. Lots of praise has been thrown at the cast – a strong ensemble of multiple roles, accents, song and complex choreography from Natasha Gilmore. I first thought I wouldn’t want to single out any cast member as everyone had the audience behind them, truly appreciating all the cast’s multi-skilled approach to the amazing and challenging score.

Then I started to think about the comical interludes of Myra McFadyen as Noreen – and her magical enticement, a warm remind to us all to take heed and protect our neighbours – even after claiming many times she didn’t want to be in a musical. Patricia Panther, who played many different parts and was also one of the handful of composers, was very welcome to tell us to take warning either on the good side or the side of authority, from the catchy ‘Cuff You’ and the poignant ‘They’re At It’.

Tying it all together, working with the quick-witted Scottish humour and gripping, almost and dare I say it dialectical episodes from the book by David Greig and Hilary Brook’s musical direction was director (and joint composer) Cora Bissett.

With a run of just under a month in Stratford, I feel too many people will be missing out on the fulfilling experience of this high-energy musical, that’s relevant to today’s audiences on a topic that is real, with no tap-dancing romance or sing-a-long in sight.

I hope the company, like their characters, succeed in a campaign to tour and even take it to the heart of communities that may share similar issues of immigration or best of all, to inspire young people to not give up on success, reminding us we’re all ‘Glasgow Girls’ in our own way, with our own aspirations. (Such as The Atrium in the heart of rural North Norfolk. Hint, hint).

Glasgow Girls is co-produced by Theatre Royal Stratford East and National Theatre of Scotland, alongwith with Citizens Theatre, Pachamama Productions, Richard Jordon Productions in associations with Merrigong Theatre Company (Australia).

Sadly, the show only runs to 2 March.

Book tickets/ more show information
Theatre Royal Stratford East
National Theatre of Scotland

Follow Joseph on Twitter: @josephballard
Joseph is a theatre director and playwright. He currently runs The Atrium, the new theatre and cinema for Norfolk Norfolk.