When she was a teenager in Glenrothes, Cora Bissett wanted to be a rockstar. And then she was one, for a while, as lead singer of Scottish band Darlingheart – remember them? No, me neither, but in the early 90s they came pretty close to hitting the big time, signing a six-album deal and touring with the likes of Blur and Radiohead. But showbiz is a fickle industry, and all it took was one bad review in NME to start the reversal of the band’s fortunes that would rapidly bring the dream crashing down.
In What Girls Are Made Of, currently at the latter end of a world tour that’s taken it to Brazil, USA and back to Edinburgh for the second summer in a row, Cora reflects on her time as a teenage rockstar. Although it paints a vivid and entertaining picture of how unforgiving and exploitative the music industry can be, though, the show is about so much more than that. It’s a story of survival, recovery and finding a place in the world. It’s about family, love and loss. And it’s about not letting anyone tell you what you can or can’t do – especially if you’re a girl.
Cora herself is an engaging and charismatic storyteller; microphone in hand, she steps smoothly back into the role of front woman after 25 years. Though there’s no shortage of humour in her tale, nor is there any attempt to sugarcoat any aspect of it, and Cora’s raw honesty means that by the time we get to the business end of proceedings we’re well and truly invested. It’s these final twenty minutes or so where the show really hits home emotionally – perhaps we don’t know what it’s like to party with Blur, but we can certainly relate to the disappointment of having a childhood dream snatched away, the fear of losing a parent, or the desperate longing for a future that’s always just out of reach.
Fittingly, the show takes the format of part play, part gig, with all the appearance and atmosphere of a live music performance – it almost feels wrong for the audience to be sitting down to watch, particularly at the end. Joining Cora on stage are bandmates Emma Smith, Simon Donaldson and Harry Ward, who in addition to providing the music also frequently come close to stealing the show with their hilarious portrayals of everyone from Damon Albarn to Cora’s mum. Under Orla O’Loughlin’s slick direction, the energy of the piece never falters, and the transitions between the musical numbers and spoken word flow very naturally.
Besides being a great nostalgia trip for those of us who grew up listening to the indie music of the 90s, What Girls Are Made Of is a fun and uplifting show that, like any good gig, takes its audience on a journey and then sends us home on a high, confident in the knowledge that while we may not all get (or indeed want) to be rockstars, it’s more than enough to be ourselves – whatever we’re made of.
What Girls Are Made Of is at Soho Theatre until 28th September.