The girl who plays me is now my pal

THE first thing Amal thought when she met Amaka was:

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The Glasgow Girls musical will be at the Citizens Theatre
The Glasgow Girls musical will be at the Citizens Theatre

"Oh my goodness, that girl looks like me."

She was with the other six former Drumchapel High School pupils, in London to meet the cast who would play out their lives as they were in 2005.

Back then they had engineered an award-winning campaign against the poor treatment of asylum seekers after their friend, Agnesa Murselaj, whose family had fled from Kosovo, was detained during a dawn raid.

Their incredible story was picked up by director Cora Bissett, who brought together the team to bring it to life.

Cora contacted Amal, now 24, first before inviting the group to London to meet the cast and see the progress of the production so far.

And Amal will never forget the first time the girls met their onstage counterparts.

"As soon as we walked into Stratford East we could hear them singing 'we are the Glasgow Girls' and we thought 'oh no, let's get out of here' and then they opened the door and these girls ran and hugged us," she said.

"They started crying, we started crying, nobody knew why we were crying but we were crying. I think it was tears of happiness and from being overwhelmed.

"We just connected straight away. We walked into the room and there were newspaper articles and pictures, it was so surreal, we couldn't believe this is our story because it still feels fresh for us.

"Usually, stories like that, if they become musicals or films, it is after that story has been in the public for years, but this cause is still ongoing."

That was where Amal first met Amaka, the London-based actress who would take on her role, and the pair clicked immediately.

Amal, who now works for the Scottish Mental Health Foundation and is studying for a masters in Human Rights and International Politics at Glasgow University, said it was like meeting a lost sister when she met Amaka, who later came to stay with her.

She said: "We connected straight away, it was amazing how we understood each other and she knew where I was coming from.

"We spent a lot of time talking about so many things, it was great, it was like a lost sister.

"People, when they went to see the musical, they thought it was me on stage and not Amaka.

"Her portrayal was really accurate, she stayed with me for a while and practised the way I speak. She knows I love dancing so she asked me to show her some moves to do in the musical."

Amaka found working with the person she was to play on stage nerve-wracking.

She said: "I was so scared when I first met Amal. I hadn't got the accent down, I didn't know how to tie the head scarf, and then I was rapping as well, because I do rapping in the play.

"We did a run through in front of them and I thought 'this must be so weird for her, to sit here and watch her life and watch someone be her.'

But the role was perfect for Amaka, and the story was close to her heart.

The daughter of a Nigerian father and an Indian mother, Amaka knew her father had been a child soldier during the Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s and 1970s and her family had been refugees at that time.

"To be faced with a story like this and the opportunity to tell it, I jumped at it because it feels like it runs in my blood," she said.

Amal came to Glasgow from Somalia when she was 11, with her mother who was pregnant with her sister. They were granted leave to stay before Agnesa was detained.

Since meeting through the production, Amaka and Amal have become close friends and Amaka stayed with Amal's family when rehearsing in Glasgow.

She said: "Whenever there is a character, I always find the similarities between myself and the character first as a way in.

"Then you can do the things that are different.

"Amal did remind me a lot of myself when I was her age. She can look a bit scary, when you look at her and you look at the pictures you think 'that girl knows what she thinks and she's not afraid to say it'.

"People would think that of me when I was younger and they would also think I was really serious but the thing that is brilliant about Amal is that she has a really jokey side, she is hilarious.

"When I met her, it was like we had known each other for years. It was like meeting a member of my family, like a long-lost cousin, because we had grown up with the same family morals because our heritage is quite similar.

"It is just a joy."

l Glasgow Girls is at the Citizens Theatre from Thursday, February 20 until Saturday, March 8. Tickets are £12-£19.50. Tel 0141 429 0022 or visit www.citz.co.uk

matty.sutton@eveningtimes.co.uk

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