We experience a slightly physically altered performance of What Girls are Made Of, the autobiographical mapping of writer and lead actor Cora Bissett’s pivotal moments in music, family and choices that led to her being on the stage, albeit restricted in movement by a leg injury, tonight. Had we not been told we wouldn’t have noticed as Bissett’s presence is still a very physical one, an energy tangibly added to by the facts of memoir drawn from her diaries and an unannounced stash of her press clippings kept by her late father.
The sense of place of the opening words of Glenrothes, Fife is carried through Edinburgh, London and the plethora of both humdrum and special locations of a touring musicians mind. To Bisset, girls in bands were unheard of in Fife and in many ways the play tonight is about reasserting the presence of women in a way that moves beyond the cursory physicality of attractiveness imposed on her by record company and critics. She also weaves in the precarity, vulnerability and living on the whims and trust of others that pursuing a creative life brings.
Signed to a label as the singer in Darlingheart straight out of school, Bissett just wants to “ride out of Kirkcaldy on a big Patti Smith horse”. Joined on stage by another three cast live playing both her band members and any other characters; songs from Smith, PJ Harvey and Nirvana and many others make this a show both rooted in and taken forward by music. The band member/character switch is a device that works particularly well, with the artistic interpretations of Blur’s Damon Albarn and Radiohead (both bands that Darlingheart toured with) being very, very funny as indeed is much of the script. Bissett does not shy away from including the Scots language and ‘Fiferdoms’ that gives the play it’s authenticity and a lot of its humour, and this is definitely the right call; subtly further expressing the themes of the right to choose and assert that run throughout.
This is a play that balances sheer joy and deep, dry humour with the pain of failure and many different losses whether it’s her record deal, her bandmates or the dementia and MS suffered by her father and mother respectively, or her own experiences of miscarriage and the complexities related to being a childless woman wanting a baby. Bissett describes miscarriage and later pregnancy leading to birth with the honesty of centre stage and still manages to take the audience back into a place of gleeful musical nostalgia and laughter.
She says towards the end of the play Patti F**king Smith, I would add Cora F**king Bissett.
Photo courtesy of Sid Scott.
What Girls Are Made Of, Traverse Theatre – Theatre 1, Aug 12th, 14th – 19th, 21st – 26th, Times vary