Review: ELSA @ Vaults Festival – Hiive

Entering the damp-smelling, stone-walled venue of The Vaults to be met with a young woman onstage clutching a guitar is enough to draw a sharp breath of trepidation. This is the sort of show that relies on impeccable execution from its sole performer; there are no supporting actors, props or staging to detract from or compensate for potential mediocrity.

Thankfully, mediocre is something that this performance is certainly not. Across a singing and storytelling odyssey (well, 50 minute show), Isobel Rogers excels in delivering the story of Elsa, a twenty-something graduate working in a coffee shop who relishes eavesdropping on customers’ conversations.

Anyone with a Rear Window-esque hunger for tucking into a slice of a stranger’s life will relate to Elsa’s curiosity: characters and stories breeze through the coffee shop, each bringing with them a personal drama which is explored just enough to be captivating, but isn’t laboured to the point of losing its intrigue. We see friends, mothers, lovers and loners contribute to a spoken narrative interspersed with melodic singing.

Rogers’ characters and observations are deft, insightful and pertinent. Her tale is instantly absorbing, drawing in audience members who are as quiet and attentive as ensnared children sitting cross-legged on the classroom floor during Story Time. She is most successful at delving into contemporary issues without settling for obvious jokes or merely throwing around buzzwords: topics such as one night stands, Instagram feeds and ‘money jobs’ are explored with a nuance which at times verges on poignancy. As someone not circumstantially dissimilar to Elsa, I am almost concerned by how much I
relate to what she is describing (in large part due to persistent hints at how the baby boomers told us we could have it all, then saddled us with extortionate tuition fees, a lack of employment opportunities and house prices growing at the rate of Sunday brunch queues in Stoke Newington).

Rogers has caught a zeitgeist in her hand, rolled it between two palms and stretched the length into a captivating ream of lyrics and storytelling. Save for some slightly overloud background music during a rap towards the end of the set (meaning a few words were drowned out), Elsa is a near-flawless concoction from Rogers and her director Sara Joyce. If you’re a millennial woman who has or once had creative ambitions but is struggling to achieve them, then this is the show for you.

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