Part-gig, part-theatre, part-satire, Elsa, by Roundhouse Resident Artist Isobel Rogers, has a little bit of everything on offer. Roger tells us the story of Elsa, an artist working in a café, and the stereotypical yet completely recognisable people that flock there. Armed with nothing but her voice and a guitar, Rogers confidently confides in us the quirks and inner workings of those that Elsa observes.
Rogers’ eye and ear for every day speech is uncanny: the songs, unpicking their way through a multiplicity of women that pass through the coffee shop, are right on the money with their observations. Rogers conjures up familiar figures with a mix of brilliant wit and clever song-writing. Rogers’ performance and Sara Joyce’s direction ensure we never travel territory twice; each song and segment feels fresh and vibrant.
The singer-songwriter vibe pauses for a moment about halfway through the show, at which point Rogers gets up and performs a parody rap about the jobs that artists do to sustain themselves so they can make their art. The lyrics are just as witty but this is the only time Rogers ventures off-genre, and it feels off-kilter and jarring. It almost feels as if the show was just that little bit too afraid to commit to being just one woman and her guitar, and felt the need to spice things up.
But Rogers, her ability to tell stories and her musical skill are all enough to keep us hooked, and this interlude feels out of touch with the rest of the show. This brief segment aside, Elsa is touching and relatable. It’s ambiguous what Elsa, or even Rogers, thinks or feels about the women she observes, but there’s either a hint of admiration or regret to all of these observations.
The interesting thing about having Rogers narrate the inner workings of the middleman-figure that is Elsa, is that it complicates the notion of ambition and art. Elsa wants to make art, she admires and envies success and potential in those around her. And yet she herself is a figment of Roger’s imagination (or so we can believe). It’s a clever twist that makes Elsa so much more than a collection of open-mic- style songs. It’s complex, funny, and moving – far from being a show that merely shows and tells, Elsa thinks, too.
Elsa is playing at Assembly Hall until August 27. For more information and to book tickets, visit https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/elsa