Darlingheart was well and truly a band that came and went, lasting from 1992 to 1994, when its teenage singer, Cora Bissett (as herself), was as impressionable as she was young. Set in a world before the ubiquity of social media, this autobiographical production tells the story of a rock band who was torn down by their record company as quickly as they were built up.
After a damning review in the NME, which fellow band member Cameron Campbell (Simon Donaldson) recognised as devastating for an up and coming band trying to make their way in the world, the record label wanted to pursue a different angle, by retaining only Bissett, parting company with Campbell as well as Cathryn Stirling (Emma Smith) and Clark Thomson (Harry Ward).
But with events in What Girls Are Made Of having occurred some years ago, how reliable is Bissett as a narrator? Well, she relies on the personal archives of her late father, which include her diaries from childhood and early adulthood, and many press cuttings, which included articles from the weekly local paper Fife Free Press. There are times when Bissett is clearly reliving her dream, but it is not a narrative told through rose-tinted lenses – the music industry is as ruthless as anybody who has had a poor experience with it says it is.
It is easy to judge Bissett for signing blank cheques for the band’s manager, Dirk Devine (a pseudonym), to spend the money as he saw fit, but his charm and way with words convinced her that he was acting in the band’s best interests. And why wouldn’t he be doing the right things, given their tours supporting the likes of Radiohead and Blur (and a band I’d never heard of before seeing this show called Sultans of Ping)?
Stirling, the drummer, was playing percussion in a school concert on the same night the band was doing a gig in a basement bar Edinburgh – it’s details of this nature that keeps the storyline so engaging, interspersed as it is with live music. The sound design is excellent, as the show sometimes drifts and sometimes lurches between gig venue atmosphere and living room ambience and back again. The set is not much to write home about, as the production is heavily reliant on Bissett’s descriptions of events, though the lighting does well to portray what it would have been like at a Darlingheart gig.
The other three actors take on a variety of characters between them, ‘roadies’, Bissett’s friends and family, and members of other bands to name but a few. Ward voices a wide variety of people, making each one unique with distinct tones of voice and mannerisms. The story is told at a swift pace, covering a period of a quarter century or so, and although it never feels rushed, at the same time there’s barely a second of downtime between scenes.
Towards the end, things get rather more reflective – though I got the impression that Bissett wouldn’t change a thing if she could live her life again. There are other shows out there that provide a ridiculously joyful musical ending – this one is as down to earth in its closing scenes as it is in the rest of the play. It’s rousing but never sugar-coated. A heartfelt and passionate performance, relatable to anyone who has encountered more than a few knocks in life and has, some way or another, managed to bounce back. Absorbing and memorable from start to finish.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Following a sold-out, Fringe First winning run at Edinburgh Fringe 2018, where it returns this summer, Cora Bissett’s What Girls Are Made Of charts her rollercoaster journey from indie-kid hopeful to wised-up woman. In this exhilarating and exciting piece of gig theatre, directed by Orla O’Loughlin (Mouthpiece) and winner of a Scottish Culture Award 2019, Cora celebrates life’s euphoric highs and epic shitstorms accompanied by a live band, with a brand-new drummer.
Taking to the stage in this production is drummer and bassist Emma Smith, who has recently been on-kit with all-female outfit Hairband and 6-piece band Kaputt. Emma brings her own personal flair on the drums to help tell Cora’s remarkable tale.
Grunge has gone global, indie kids are inheriting the earth, and a schoolgirl from Glenrothes is catapulted to a rock star lifestyle as the singer in a hot new indie band. Touring with Radiohead, partying with Blur, she was living the dream. Until she wasn’t. Based on her meticulously detailed teenage diaries, this is the true story of Cora Bissett’s rollercoaster journey from the girl she was to the woman she wanted to be. What Girls Are Made Of asks what wisdom we should pass on to the next generation – and which glorious mistakes we should let them make.
@CoraBissett, @sohotheatre, #whatgirlsaremadeof
What Girls Are Made Of
Performance Dates Monday 9th – Saturday 28th September 2019, 7pm
Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE