Fringe review: What Girls Are Made Of

THEN in her early 20s, Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries gave 17-year-old Cora Bissett a message on gig flyer. It was 1992 and Bissett's group Darlingheart were supporting the Irish band on tour.

Next to her number, O'Riordan, who died in January this year, had scrawled a few words of advice to Bissett, who had not long left school in Kirkcaldy to pursue her dream of becoming Fife's own Patti Smith.

"Don't take any shit".

Over 25 years later, Bissett, one of the country's foremost writer-directors (Adam, Room, Glasgow Girls) returns as a stage performer in this joyful autobiographical tale hinging on her time with the band who scored one of the biggest record deals in Scottish music history.

Hair scrapped back atop a Pixies t shirt, mic in hand, Bissett is front-and-centre again in this play-come-gig with producer/engineer Susan Bear and actor-musicians Simon Donaldson and Grant O'Rourke (both Outlander) taking the part of her young bandmates.

A weave of monologue, dialogue and songs from the era follow Darlingheart's lightning fast rise from their bedrooms to a £90k, five-album deal, trashing hotels and playing with a bunch "indie schimdie" posh English boys (Radiohead) and schoolpal favourites Blur.

Things were going brilliantly: their fanbase was growing at a time when Nirvana had opened up the mainstream to the kick-ass discordance and DIY ethics of indie rock and record companies were still swilling in cash made from the previous decade.

More than is outwardly obvious now, music in the pre-internet age was a label of tribe membership as well as the soundtrack to inner lives, hopes and frustrations.

It was written about extensively in the NME and Melody Maker, "inkies" which thudded on the carpet with the weight of a Sunday newspaper. Reviews really mattered, and had a significant impact on sales.

When Johnny Cigarettes, a particularly fearsome NME writer, slated Darlingheart's album, the result was devastating. The record company stopped returning their calls, their Edinburgh A&R man went AWOL.

Even worse was to come.

It's a roller-coaster, certainly, but one the highs and lows of which will be felt more by those similarly invested in the time. There's a flatness from this daytime Traverse audience in response to witty, spot-on renditions of classics of the era by the likes of The Sultans Of Ping FC, and while it's great to hear original tracks by Darlingheart again (nothing exists online), perhaps an evening crowd at a music venue would better spark off What Girls Are Made Of's buzz.

Here, they could be shorter excerpts, a sleeker fit to the snappy rhythms of Bissett's script. More affecting are the insights into her personal life, notably the illness and death of her father and her struggles to start a family.

She was inspired to write the play after finding a box of Darlingheart memorabilia in her late dad's attic and wondered what lessons from the time could be imparted to her infant daughter.

These are recounted in a touching closing number which concludes by saying girls are made of "sugar and spice, and other things, not all nice." It's an attitude O'Riordan would likely approve of.

Until Aug 26 (not 13, 20), Traverse Theatre, various times (85mins), £21.50, £16.50 and £15 concs. Tel: 0131 228 1404. Tickets: @traversetheatre @RAWMaterialArts #WhatGirlsAreMadeOf