Just when you thought the Edinburgh posts were done with… I thought it would be quite apt for this month’s #MissedTheBoat to be one of the shows I couldn’t manage to fit into my hectic Fringe schedule. A classic case of poor timing with this one; I was a bit tardy in getting my press requests in (as I’d also been slow in applying for media accreditation), so that probably didn’t help my attempt to get a review ticket for this one – and then by the time I’d decided to just buy a ticket, it had completely sold out for the week I was there! But, never fear, a play text for Cora Bissett’s autobiographical show has been published, giving me an opportunity to at least read it.
Based on her brutally honest & detailed teenage diaries, What Girls Are Made Of takes us to Fife in 1992, and Cora is desperate to escape. When she sees an ad in the local paper from a band seeking a singer, she leaps at the chance to follow the same path as her idol, Patti Smith, and auditions – Darlingheart (comprised of Cora, Cameron, Clark & Cathryn) is formed. It starts off small, getting a foothold on the Scottish music industry ladder (and local radio airplay), before talk turns to record deals and support slots for some of the biggest bands of the 90s. Almost inevitably, a crisis unfolds following the NME’s review of their album – and their arrangement with manager Dirk Devine comes tumbling down around them. Cora is forced to confront what it is she really wants from life, as time (and chances) start to run out…
Considering the musical element is integral to the show, the play text reads rather well – almost like a novella, except for the layout of the sections of dialogue. I’m presuming that the large chunks of narration that surround it are spoken by Cora, with her dipping in to play the rest of the scene where necessary (it’s not marked, but then it’s clearly her story). The music choices are also helpfully indicated (such as Dress by P J Harvey, Where’s Me Jumper by The Sultans of Ping FC, and snatches of Radiohead’s Creep), so you can hear them in your head as you read – or, like me, you can tee them up and play the actual songs at the right time… Not quite the same effect as t he spontaneous live performance, but a surprisingly good enhancement.
Though elements of it are a little too familiar from all the music biography shows, there’s not a lot you can do when you’re basing it on true events – and What Girls Are Made Of is anything but predictable in the way things pan out when the inevitable happens. As much as it is a story about artists and the music industry, it’s also an expression of what it means to be a woman; there are all sorts of pressures (be they political, social, biological) and Bissett’s text is rife with the conflicted emotions that come with that.
Whilst I do feel like I’ve ‘missed the boat’ slightly, as I’d have loved for a great female and Scottish story to round off my first Edinburgh Fringe, I’m sure there will be a future life for this one somewhere down the line. Not only was it well received, but it’s important that we continue to get women’s voices out there more and more – so everyone’s stories can be heard.
What Girls Are Made Of ran at the Traverse Theatre as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe until 26 August 2018. The play text is now available (published by Oberon Books).