Tramway, dir. Orla O’Loughlin, 09-13/04/19
It is rare that when you purchase a ticket for a play that you are doing more than just that, yet Cora Bissett’s What Girls Are Made Of presents us with such a rarity. Sitting in Tramway, we are a theatre audience, we are gig goers, we are the pages of Cora’s diary, her microphone the pen. The stage is ready to bounce with musical brilliance, an array of instruments sit under neon lights and the stage transforms from basements to gig venues, to pubs and much more. In 90 minutes, Cora takes us through the EKG graph-like highs and lows of the life and times of her 90s indie band, Darlingheart – from supporting Radiohead and Blur, to having their bank account bled dry by their teuchter-accented manager, Dirk Devine. The vibrant play produces delight and despair, a thrilling desire to sing along with the band, and an incontrollable need to empathise with the life going on beyond the party.
This story of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll begins as often many do – in Kirkcaldy, Fife. Okay, perhaps an uninspired space for the birth of greatness, or so we might have thought until we heard Cora Bissett perform the first of many songs in the show. Her music career starts in 1992 when she joins a band with a “shit hot” drummer, a guitarist who looks like he could be the third Reid brother, and bassist who doesn’t say much, “but you know he really cares.” The band form a cohesive phenomenon, Cora constantly citing her female heroes: Patti Smith, Dolly Parton, and PJ Harvey. They even end up supporting a rock band from Limerick, earning wise words from a then sheepish Dolores O’Riordan, “don’t take any shit”. But unfortunately, The Cranberries’ unshackled advice was soon impossible to follow, as Cora is swept up by the music industry into far more than the 16-year-old girl from Fife she started as. Her innocence and optimism are soon crushed by the harsh realities of fame and the media.
What are girls made of? Well this brilliant production concludes with a song of ingredients including nursey rhymes and punk music, reinvention and growth. Cora takes us by the hand and guides us through her life post-fame, leading us through the hospital to visit her modestly influential father from the Irish countryside, granting us access to the trauma of miscarriages, and the heartache of seeing all those around you living the life you could have had. However, ultimately Cora is determined to pass her empowerment and resilience onto another generation of girls not least her own daughter.
The actors are responsible for an array of characters, smoothly transitioning by heavily relying on the use of accents to inform us of the role – this is done with sheer excellence by the entire cast, particularly Harry Ward. As the confetti lands on the pounding stage, I am reminded of Dolores’ words, “don’t take any shit”, and I feel like Cora Bissett has produced an unforgettable showcase of talent and skill, using the shit she’s had to take to celebrate and rejoice in the perfect imperfections that girls are truly made of.
[Ellen Magee – @mondaymagee]