Cora Bissett's What Girls Are Made Of returns to Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019 after an acclaimed 2018 run and global tour. Maggie Kelly reviews the price of teenage fame:

Returning after a hugely-lauded run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018, Cora Bissett‘s What Girls Are Made Of is an explosive autobiographical account of the dusty road to teenage stardom.

What Girls Made Assembly Hall
Cora Bissett (image courtesy of Mihaela Bodlovic)

Britpop icon Darlingheart secured one of the biggest record deals in Scottish music history when most of the teenage members were still at school. Bissett’s show beautifully charts this collision of innocence and fame – of exams clashing with gigs, groupies and classmates blurring into one – as her childhood slowly but surely breaks down into sexualisation, ruined friendships and free drinks on aeroplanes.

The autobiographical story mixes pain with pop bangers, emotion with electric guitars. Bissett is very clear that the feeling of ground shifting beneath her feet as a teenager never really changes when she grows up. She sets her personal and professional life opposite each other, slowing focussing around the concept of ‘being a parent’, generational loves and losses. Her father’s memory is never too far away – Bissett clutches a pile of magazine clippings that her dad collected as if to try and cling to the childhood she was pulled away from, all the while aware of the pressures her life exerts upon her own young daughter.

What Girls Made Assembly Hall
Simon Donaldson, Cora Bissett, Susan Bear & Harry Ward (image courtesy of Mihaela Bodlovic)

It’s a collision of gig-theatre and memoir. Simon Donaldson, Grant O’Rourke and Susan Bear sit among piled microphone cables and strobing neon lights, effortlessly riding the twists and turns of the story with composer MJ McCarthy’s music choices. They switch between band members, friends and Bissett’s family – all with their own struggles connected to her fame.

It’s warm, it’s anarchic, it’s effortlessly heartbreaking.

What Girls Made Assembly Hall
Simon Donaldson, Cora Bissett, Susan Bear & Harry Ward (image courtesy of Mihaela Bodlovic)

The magic of What Girls Are Made Of comes with the clarity of hindsight. Bissett’s gaze on her teenage years is stroked with nostalgia and regret; the excitement of knowing her success – feeling her success – combined with the growing awareness of roots breaking off and the inevitable lurch out of the band due to factors out of her control. She looks back at all the ‘greats’ that contributed to the textures of her upbringing and fame, the women in the music industry that fought to be heard – Nina Simone; Janis Joplin; Beyoncé; Patti Smith.

What Girls Made Assembly Hall
Cora Bissett (image courtesy of Mihaela Bodlovic)

What Girls Are Made Of is a dark and sincere love letter to the abusive relationship Bissett led with the music industry. It’s a glorious mixture of harrowing and life-affirming messages, centred around a bangin’ female-led soundtrack that continues pulsing in the blood long after leaving the venue.

★★★★☆

What Girls Are Made Of played at Assembly Hall. For more information, please visit the festival website.