Cora Bissett: 'It's uplifting rock theatre with a salute to all the amazing women who have paved the way for us to be who we want to be'

Cora Bissett: 'It's uplifting, unpretentious rock theatre, with a huge salute to all the amazing women who have paved the way for us to be who we want to be'

credit: Sid Scott

Actor-director and playwright storms the nation with rock and theatre

2019 has certainly been a busy year for Cora Bissett: between the revival of her determinedly political musical Glasgow Girls, a triple bill of science-fiction new plays for the National Theatre of Scotland and the return of her Fringe success What Girls are Made Of, the actor-director, and now playwright, has demonstrated that her energetic approach to dramaturgy revitalises the traditional script through a sensitivity to both entertainment and intelligent content.

Although it is possible to describe Bissett's style as a director – there is often a tremendous dynamism at the heart of her work, and an emotional honesty – What Girls are Made Of is a new direction. 'I adapt the working method each time for each production,' she says. 'It is entirely built around the subject matter, the concept around that subject matter and the creative artists at the heart of it. This show is the first show which I've sat down and written by myself as a writer so it's very different in that sense. It's also autobiographical and so I spent a lot of time pouring over the old diaries and revisiting the early 90s.'

Arriving at Tramway as part of the Citizens' season of female-authored work, What Girls are Made Of both celebrates Bissett's success as a teenager, when she was offered a recording deal, and examines the pressures and consequences of 'living the dream'. With a live band, it sits comfortably with the fashion for 'gig-theatre', a mash-up of theatrical and musical influences that has adapted the more sedate musical theatre for a more contemporary flow.

'Getting picked up by a major label at 17 and sent out on the road for a few years, had an unbelievable impact on me,' Bissett explains, 'just not in quite the way I expected. It became about how you find your way, turn things around, start to build the person you want to be.' Using her teenage diaries as a source, she has excavated her past, but with a more immediate intention. 'It was only when I started to think about the place where I am at now … as a woman in her 40s, a new mum with a deeply longed for little girl, that I saw a sort of structure, a reason to tell the story. It became about more than a 'rock n roll adventure' and it became about how those formative experiences as a teen shape you in a really profound way.'

Yet there is a celebration within the story, a warm tribute to those who influenced Bissett's ambitions and fly the flag for independence, authenticity and creativity. 'Those who love their early 90's indie will feel a very special glow of love as we weave Nirvana, Blur, Sultans of Ping, Radiohead and Throwing Muses inspired tracks into the story,' she concludes. 'But the journey goes far deeper. Ultimately it's uplifting, unpretentious rock theatre, with a huge salute to Patti Smith and all the amazing women who have paved the way for us to be who we want to be.'

What Girls Are Made Of, Tramway, Glasgow, Tue 9–Sat 13 Apr, and touring.

What Girls Are Made Of

  • 4 stars

Based on her teenage diaries, Cora Bissett traces the highs and lows of her musical career, beginning with her origins as a schoolgirl in Glenrothes to her time as the lead singer of indie-rock outfit Darlingheart. Winner of the 2018 Scotsman Fringe First Award.

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