A MUSICAL drama based on a true story of seven teenagers from Drumchapel returns for a tour of some of the biggest theatres in Scotland this month.

Glasgow Girls, which is directed by Cora Bissett and based on a book by award-winning writer David Greig, begins its fifth tour at the city’s King’s Theatre on Tuesdaybefore touring Scotland and performing dates at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

The uplifting show tells how the lives of the group, who include current-day BBC Scotland journalist Emma Clifford Bell, child development officer Jennifer McCarron, the Saltire Society’s Outstanding Woman of Scotland 2016 Amal Azzudin and Roza Salih, a regular contributor to this newspaper, were changed forever in 2005 when their school friend Agnesa Murselaj and her family were forcibly taken from their home by UK immigration police.

As more of their friends were subjected to what protesters described as “racist” and “brutal” dawn raids by UK Government officials, the self-styled Glasgow Girls became the centre of a campaign which inspired the wider Drumchapel community to unite behind its residents.

The teenagers took the campaign to Holyrood, where, under intense cross-party pressure, then First Minister Jack McConnell said he would arrange a “protocol” with the UK Home Office – a guarantee whereby a decision on a family’s deportation could only be made in consultation with social services and education authorities. This was not forthcoming but the girls became prominent advocates for refugee rights across the country. Their story was made into two TV shows and, in 2012, was developed into a musical by Greig and Bissett for the National Theatre of Scotland.

Praised for its youthful, gritty energy, the production was then named best new musical at 2013’s Off West End Awards. Following a sold-out run at 2016’s Edinburgh Fringe, Amnesty International gave the production that year’s Freedom of Expression Award.

Seven years after its Citizens Theatre premiere, Glasgow Girls will now come to some of the largest houses in the country.

Bissett says it was Margaret-Anne O’Donnell, her colleague in Raw Material, the production company recently set up with Vanishing Point’s Gillian Garrity, who had the “ballsy idea” of taking Glasgow Girls to Scotland’s biggest theatres.

“Normally as a subsidised theatre group in Scotland you just don’t think you’ll be able to fill those spaces. We had a few conversations with the King’s and we really thought this show still has an audience; every time we bring it back, the audience grows and grows.”

It’s the beginning of another busy year for the writer, director and performer. When the cast of Glasgow Girls take to the stage of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in February, Adam, Bisset’s award-winning play with writer Frances Poet, has its US premiere in New York.

She’s then straight into directing Interference, a trilogy of plays set in the near future to be performed in a disused Glasgow office block in March for the National Theatre of Scotland. Following that, What Girls Are Made Of, her autobiographical 2018 Fringe hit which looks back on her time as the teenage frontwoman of one-time buzz band Darlingheart, tours Scotland before visiting Brazil and the US.

Bissett certainly has the experience to know when a production has “come to the end of its life, that maybe its moment has been and gone”. Glasgow Girls’ days are far from over, she says.

“In 2016 when we did it at Assembly at the Fringe, we were selling out 800 tickets a day. This story matters to people, it still deserves another life.”

Returning to the Citz two years after its initial run as part of Glasgow 2014, Glasgow Girls raised questions about the future of Scotland and highlighted the impotence of Holyrood in the face of Westminster intransigence. Now it’s performed amid Brexit convulsions and the ascent of an extreme right emboldened by anti-migrant rhetoric from governments on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Every time we bring the show back out, it feels as though it is speaking to a very particular moment in time,” says Bissett. “When I first was drawn to the story of the Glasgow Girls in 2010, I had no idea that the matter of refugees and asylum seekers in the world would transpire to become the most urgent and prescient question of our times.

“This time round, we live in precarious times, with the rise of neo-fascism across the world, evermore media-fuelled anti-Islamic rhetoric, and the frightening popularity of Trump’s crude divisive policies, walls and exclusion zones.

“Against this landscape, it brings compassion back to the people at the centre of these crises, and personalises their stories, so that we as an audience can connect our humanity with theirs.”

With the same cast as 2016, this run will see Patricia Panther’s dynamic music being performed by a full live band.

It was the “energy and can-do spirit” of the original girls that first convinced Bissett to tell their story as a musical and its themes of resilience, empower-ment, human rights and inter-national politics have inspired schools to study the text.

However, a “complex situation” with the Scottish Qualifications Authority has seen it disallowed on the curriculum. Teachers reported to Bissett that their students’ work on Glasgow Girls was “discarded in exam results because it was defined as a musical, not a play”.

“It just seems mad that it’s not allowed because of the form. I can’t tell you how many teachers write to me because they want to use this in school. This feels like a story that lives and breathes in the moment of now. The role models in it are incredible.”

As well as seeing the story of the Drumchapel teenagers touring the States and across Europe, Bissett says she wants to see it be redefined as a “play with songs”.

“That way it could go on and be part of our canon forever. I want it to be one that people will study in 15 years’ time because it mattered, and it really does matter.”

Jan 15 to 19, King’s Theatre, Glasgow. Tel: 0844 871 7648. atgtickets.com/glasgow

Jan 23 to 26, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh. Tel: 0131 529 6000. capitaltheatres.com

Jan 30 to Feb 3, Perth Theatre. Tel: 01738 621031. horsecross.co.uk

Feb 7 to Feb 9, Eden Court, Inverness. Tel: 01463 234 234. eden-court.co.uk

www.RawMaterialArts.com @RawMaterialArts