Traverse Theatre’s “What Girls Are Made Of,” Edinburgh, Review: An Irresistible Tale Of Britpop Fame And Misfortune
Long before Cora Bissett became one of Scotland’s most exciting theatre-makers–in 2012 she won an Olivier Award for Roadkill, her site-specific show about sex trafficking–she was a popstar. Or, more accurately, a Britpop star.
Darlingheart may be a footnote in NME history now, alongside Menswe@r and Lush, but for a brief period in the nineties, they were hot property, supporting The Cranberries and a young band called Radiohead (“A bit whiny indie-schmindie boy band, eh?” was young Cora’s assessment) and touring with Blur, before the dream dissolved into debt and indifference.
What Girls Are Made Of is a play with songs–from Darlingheart’s own, pure 90s, fuzzy back catalog to Patti Smith, Nirvana, and The Sultans of Ping FC. It’s the soulful story of Bissett’s life, a tale of reinvention and renewal, prompted by the recent death of her parents and birth of her daughter.
We hear about young indie kid Cora, desperate to be in a band and ride out of Kirkaldy “on a great big Patti Smith horse.” She answers an advert in the Fife Free Press for a singer in a band inspired by Pixies and PJ Harvey and the rest is history. Until it isn’t–and Bissett finds herself cruelly cast out of the industry that promised to make her a star aged 17, and is forced to scrap around London for busking spots and acting jobs playing “a range of prostitutes” (“garrotted, stabbed, left in a tip,” she ticks them off on her fingers). She wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last, to be picked up and dropped by the record industry.
In Orla O’Loughlin’s pumping production, the stage is set up like a gig, with strobe lighting, mic stands, guitars, and drum kit. Bissett is brilliantly supported by Susan Bear, Simon Donaldson, and Grant O’Rourke who play everyone from her band-mates to her family, from Thom Yorke and Alex James, to coked-up A&R men.
In the later stages, the rambunctiously enjoyable anecdotes–backstage chats with Dolores, carousing with Damon–yield to quieter tales of failure, broken friendships, heartbreak, and the loss of a parent to dementia.
If there’s a nagging feeling that this might be a touch indulgent, that the #metoo angle doesn’t quite pan out to make a universal point, as the drum pounds and Bissett hymns resilient womanhood, invoking stars from Janis Joplin to Janelle Monae, it is all but impossible to resist the beat of this show’s big, charming heart.
This article first appeared in Inews on August 7, 2018, and has been reposted with permission.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.