She was just a kid herself when her band Darlingheart became rockstars over night, so now, with a daughter of her own, director Cora Bissett has decided it’s time to stage her own story.
She’s the actor who gave up the stage in order to tell other people’s stories. Having re-invented herself as a theatre director in 2010, Cora Bissett went on to bring us true-life tales of sex trafficking (Roadkill), deportations (Glasgow Girls) and transgender oppression (Adam).
Now, with What Girls Are Made Of, she is not only putting herself centre stage again, but telling a story that’s much closer to home.
“I was never remotely interested in telling my own story,”Cora Bissett says. “But maybe in making those other shows, I did reflect on my own journey to becoming who I am.”
In 1992, Bissett was set to be the next big thing. With her Kirkcaldy band Darlingheart, the 17 year old had landed a five-album deal with Phonogram. She was so young her parents had to sign the contract. Soon came gigs supporting Blur, Radiohead and the Cranberries. For a heady period, she lived the rock’n’roll high life, but fame did not come calling. Their debut album was called Serendipity – it was anything but. Before they knew it, the band was dropped and they were back in Fife with a £40,000 debt.
“It happened so early and I got spat out so quickly,” she says, without bitterness. “I had to pick up the pieces and ask, ‘How do I begin to create myself in the world?’”
After her father died three years ago, she found herself rummaging through her teenage diaries in his attic. It was only then she realised the potential of her own life story.
“My diaries were really detailed,” she says. “I had this studious school-girl thing about me and even though I was on a rock’n’roll tour supporting Blur and partying every night, I’d still go up to my bedroom and dutifully write down, ‘Well, today, Damon said this…’” It’s hilarious in its attention to detail.”
Now a mother herself, she started wondering what advice she would give her two-year-old daughter Naia about the years ahead. The answer is locked into What Girls Are Made Of, a rise-and-fall piece of gig theatre complete with live renditions of 1990s hits (and the odd, forgotten Darlingheart tune) directed by the Traverse Theatre’s Artistic Director, Orla O’Loughlin.
“Reading through ten of these A4 diaries, I could see myself growing up,” she says. “I could see my language changing and my understanding of myself evolving. When I started to write the play, I realised it was also about my daughter, about becoming a mum and thinking about that young girl now. It made me reflect on my mum letting me go off. She must have been terrified!”
How, then, would she react if the same thing happened to Naia? “I would be a hypocrite from hell if I was to stand in the way of whatever her soul was asking her to do,” she laughs.
“Yes, it was very damaging at the time and it affected me in a lot of ways, but I wouldn’t change it, either.”
WHERE & WHEN
What Girls Are Made Of, Traverse, 3-26 August (not 6, 13, 20), times vary, from £9,