Touring – reviewed at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Bursting with emotion and tuneful energy, the return to the Traverse of What Girls Are Made Of is a thing of wonder.
Emotional upheavals inspired Cora Bissett to revisit her teenage diaries, eventually constructing this autobiographical piece. While it ranges across various periods of her life, the main focus is on her time as singer of Fife indie hopefuls Darlingheart.
Bissett and other musical theatricals Susan Bear, Simon Donaldson and Harry Ward provide the songs and characters in a tale that may be a familiar one of betrayal and broken dreams (spoiler – Darlingheart never became stars, even if some of the bands they supported did) but is discharged with emotional honesty, intellectual rigour, charm and considerable musicality.
The songs – originally by the likes of Blur, PJ Harvey and Tori Amos as well as Darlingheart themselves – perhaps lack a little of the grunge and scuzz that would make for a more convincing gig atmosphere, but work tremendously well in this context. Bear, Donaldson and Ward, meanwhile, are excellent in portraying the bandmates, family members, dodgy characters and preening, posh would-be rockstars necessary for the story.
Darlingheart’s story is left behind in the second half of the play, but clever structuring by Bissett and pin-sharp direction from Orla O’Loughlin mean that there are no sudden lurches. Indeed, the sections dealing with Bissett’s family are in many ways the most impressive and affecting parts of the production.
This emotional honesty is one of the things that marks the production out as truly special. The story presented here has a resonance that goes far beyond 90s indie rock. This is one of these occasions where everything – the writing, the direction, Ana Ines Jabares-Pita’s design, Lizzie Powell’s lighting, Michael John McCarthy’s sound design – helps create a platform for the cast to excel.
Words like ‘empowering’ or ‘life-enhancing’ tend to indicate fluffy platitudes are on display – but this emotionally focused and clever piece of theatre could not be further from that.
Sure, if you can remember The Sultans Of Ping FC or can enjoy a musical joke about The Pixies, you will get more out of it. But even if you cannot recall when albums and record companies were still a thing, you will appreciate it.
This exploration of life’s setbacks and triumphs, suffused with the spirit of its guiding light Patti Smith, will sweep away anyone who has ever had hopes, dreams or a family, or anyone who has ever wanted anything or anybody. If there is a better theatrical experience to be had anywhere in the country, I will eat my hat.
Running time 1 hour 30 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 16– Saturday 20 April 2019
Daily at 7.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.
What Girls Are Made Of returns for EdFringe 2019
Assembly Hall, Mound Place, EH1 2LU
Daily (not Wed 7, Mon 12, Mon 19): 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.
What Girls are Made Of on tour 2019:
Tue 16 – Sat 20 April
0131 228 1404
Wed 1 – Sun 5 May
028 9023 5053
Tue 7 – Wed 8 May
Adam Smith Theatre
Tue 14 – Wed 15 May
Fri 17 – Sat 18 May
Thurs 1 – Sun 25 Aug
0131 623 3030
Mon 9 – Sat 27 Sept
020 7478 0100