“the story itself is nostalgic and heart-warming with a great soundtrack to boot”
Everyone has a fantasy of winning big; having your absolute pie-in-the-sky, never-in-a-million-years dream come true. But what happens after it does? On discovering the fearsome coolness of Patti Smith, young Cora decides she absolutely needs to sing in a band. So, she finds an ad in the local paper and does just that, and everything just seems to fall in to place. Ten gigs in and they’re already playing for all the biggest record label reps, and in no time they’re signed to Phonogram, on tour with the likes of Radiohead and Blur, trashing hotels and playing to 2,000-strong audiences. But after one bad review in NME, everything turns sour and Cora is left trying to work out what happens next.
Based on the actual events of Cora Bissett’s teenage years and directed by Orla O’Loughlin, What Girls Are Made Of charts the epic highs and crushing lows of quick fame, and the unforgiving nature of the industry, as well as the less romantic heartaches of life in general. The main message seems to be that few people’s lives glide along on an ever-ascending trajectory, and that a successful and full life is not defined by a lack of failure. This message is muddied in the ending’s slightly disappointing emphasis on the importance of being a mother, and passing the lessons down to the next generation, as though the rest of the story were only validated by her daughter’s existence. That being said it’s hard to argue with the plot seeing as it’s based on Bissett’s life – she did in fact want to be a mother, and she did succeed in doing so.
The design (Ana Inés Jabares-Pita) is a classic gig theatre set-up, and Bissett is joined on stage by her fellow band members, Simon Donaldson, Emma Smith and Harry Ward who also aid in her story, playing the parts of concerned parents, coked-up record label heads, shifty managers, and urm… Radiohead. The quality of musicianship is excellent, and the soundtrack takes us back to the rose-tinted memory of a teenager’s 90s – the Pixies, Nirvana, PJ Harvey, and of course Patti Smith.
Bissett is an endearing and engaging story teller and though there might have been a little more grit in a true tale of rock-and-roll, the story itself is nostalgic and heart-warming with a great soundtrack to boot.
“Cook is a confident, competent and compelling performer”
A stern and solemn musician (Patrick Bell) sits on stage waiting for it all to begin. Keyboard, guitar, and violin form a wall around him; a triangle dangles in front. The musician won’t smile once for the whole hour, nor will he speak. Like the audience, he’s waiting for the main event. Cameron Cook gracefully glides into the light. ‘It All’, a dreamlike journey tackling life, death, love and capitalism, begins.
It’s a tricksy show to sum up. Cook, whose black lipstick, white vest, black trousers and braces are reminiscence of a clowning street-performer, speaks a finely penned poem delving into life’s bigger mysteries. Like a young Jim Carrey, he is constantly interrupted by new characters, scenarios, blink-and-you-miss-it moments that possess his body and cause absurd and hilarious physical and vocal changes. A father and son talk about the meaning of life. An old Southern American man warns there’s a “storm a-comin’”. A slick businessman descends into Gollum-like madness. By the end, it’s only the performer who remains, demanding a curtain call and pontificating on what ‘it all’ could mean.
I must admit, the rest of the audience seemed to enjoy this performance much more than I did. Cook is a confident, competent and compelling performer. He switches between characters and situations with absolute ease, and his physical contortions are astounding. Watching him perform is like switching between radio stations, each moment completely different, drawing you into weird and wonderful worlds for all-too-brief moments. However, the lack of cohesive structure is a gnawing issue, the final message is not quite clear.
If there is a message. Ever aware of being a performer on stage in front of an audience, Cook’s show might just be a showcase for his talents and an evening of clownish cabaret entertainment. This audience was certainly hooked throughout. For me, the transformations became a little too repetitive. With no completely coherent connection between them, the array of characters wasn’t varied enough in tone, nor funny enough to be thoroughly enjoyable.
Despite that, there are, of course, moments of pure joy. The relationship between performer and musician is smart and humorous, and Cook’s capitalist Gollum was a personal highlight. Bell plays his instruments with commitment and gusto, making his triangle playing especially watchable. The lighting is stark and bright – a simple set up but ideal for a show where the focus is on performance.
Mildly enjoyable for some, a masterpiece for others, this show is certainly not for everyone. If clowning and mid-nineties Jim Carrey is your bag, you’ll be up on your feet at the end. For me, the show needs a slightly more coherent through-line to move beyond just being a showcase of acting talent. Cook and Bell are a delight though – and it is Cook’s boundless energy and optimism that makes the hour-long running time whizz by.