Extra Review: The Battle of Calder Street, Govanhill Baths

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It was the longest occupation of a public building in British history, with community members standing toe-to-toe with Glasgow City Council and Strathclyde Police for 140 days.

The Battle of Calder Street may have been lost back in 2001, but the war to restore Govanhill Baths goes on — this week, through the medium of theatre.

After a year and a bit of acclaimed shows, Govanhill Theatre Group returns to the history of the building it now occupies, telling the story of an entire community through the voices of a few protesters from the front line.

The verbatim production is very small scale — the deep end stage set up to look like the street outside and the players on it throughout, each taking a turn in the spotlight to read aloud transcripts from those involved between news bulletins, Govanhill-ised folk songs and poems.

Man, woman, child — the identity of the speaker isn’t always clear, although they are afforded accents so Baths protesters themselves may recognise a few key figures.

It’s hard to speak for the people whose voices have been borrowed, but it’s a fair assumption that they’d all agree; Bruce Downie and Lizzie Kane do justice to their story.

There are laughs, anger and sadness — sometimes to the brink of tears — and the result is that both actors fade into the background, bringing to life those distinctive characters of Govanhill.

Folk singer Shambles Miller punctuates the drama perfectly with songs devised on the 2001 picket line by Alistair Hulett, providing a dose of humour with songs like Oor Wee Pool.

Jim Monaghan’s specially-written poems, named after four key figures in the battle for Calder Street’s pool, are as moving as the words of those involved — each a touching tribute from the poet to his neighhours.

That the audience is sitting in the now community-run building is proof of the occupation’s eventual success — that there’s no water in the pool, proof that the struggle continues.

In a preview featured in The Extra, Bruce commented that The Battle of Calder Street is a work in progress, and that this week’s production is the start of bigger things to come.

Much like certain recent political events — and indeed, the fight to restore Govanhill Baths — this moving show is perhaps the start of an ongoing conversation, and one which anyone with an interest in the power of close-knit communities should engage in.

The Battle of Calder Street runs at Govanhill Baths until Saturday, 7.30pm — tickets £10 (£8 conc) from Brown Paper Tickets.