by Laura Kressly
When Cora Bissett was 17, she joined a band. It’s the stuff of many indie kids’ school days, but Darlingheart found overnight success. They went from tiny venues to opening for the biggest britpop bands in the country in an extraordinarily short time, but their fame was just as short-lived. Bissett’s show, assembled from the diaries she kept as a child and into adulthood, chronicles her rise to fame and subsequent readjustment to real life. Tenacity, banging tunes and engaging storytelling celebrate Bissett’s resilience whilst critiquing the music industry in this vibrant gig-theatre piece.
The well-balanced script built of narration and songs has a book with a rich emotional landscape and poetically-detailed accounts of growing up in small-town Scotland. The level of nuance here is a rarity in music-driven forms, be they musicals or gig-theatre, and a sorely needed one. It’s punctuated by some absolutely banging tunes – the cover of Tori Amos’ “Horses” is particularly powerful – that snapshot the early 90s music scene. The journey of Bissett’s youthful enthusiasm easily segues into a more mature but equally ferocious approach to life, with the pace similarly showing how her experience with fame at such a young age made her grow up quickly.
Bissett is accompanied by Simon Donaldson, Emma Smith and Harry Ward, actor-musicians who play a variety of people in Bissett’s life – her family, bandmates, and music industry bods all make appearances. Some of these seem like they could be caricatures, but they are funny and engaging nonetheless, and effectively juxtapose the serious themes.
Though critical of the music industry on several levels and demonstrating how easily people are exploited and taken advantage of, it’s also considers what constitutes success. Though opening for Blur and Radiohead is easy to label as such, it’s important to remember that getting a busking pitch on the tube and having a family are, too.
What Girls Are Made Of runs through 28 September in London.
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