Spoleto 2019 » Theater

'What Girls Are Made Of' is joyful, heart-wrenching, and worth every second

Rock on


In What Girls Are Made Of, the central figure is writer/director Cora Bissett, and this is her story, told in her own moving, and often hilarious, words — via very Scottish dialect (don’t worry, stay with it and you’ll pick it up fine) — and through song, be it her band’s big hit that started it all,”Smarthead,” or poignant covers, like Nirvana’s “In Bloom” and Tori Amos’ “Horses.” Sewn together with the momentous ’90s rock that defined the era, this is an incredibly and beautifully crafted production I wish we could all see again and again.

Glenrothes, Fife, Scotland is where the story begins, when Bissett is 16 and follows her Patti Smith-fueled dreams to sing in a band. The four-piece, Darlingheart, lands tours with the likes of Radiohead, who a teenage Bissett believed would amount to nothing. 

Over the course of an hour and a half, Bissett is joined by Susan Bear, Simon Donaldson, and Harry Ward, who superbly perform multiple roles, depending on the milestone of the moment — like the death of Bissett’s father, Darlingheart’s fast ride to the top of the charts and the fronts of magazines, and the one-hit wonder’s gut-wrenching descent, revealing the very ugliest sides of the music industry (lookin’ at you, Johnny Cigarettes and Dirk Divine).

During the crash, we see ourselves in the girl who tries to pick herself back up, but damn if there’s not a gut punch awaiting at every corner.

In the end, 25 years later, everything seems to shift at once, summoning emotions of both sadness and gladness and shining a spotlight on what Bissett had long ached for: a new superpower. She finds herself in her own strength that had always manifested itself in so many forms, and realizes those awkward — and sometimes awful, sometimes euphoric — band years have informed her every move, even still.

Directed by Orla O'Loughlin, What Girls Are Made Of is a joyful, heart-wrenching, and worthwhile ride that I, as a viewer — and I reckon, Bissett — would do all over again.

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