Isobel Rogers, a guitar and an evocative acoustic feel – it’s like a chilled-out coffee shop performance. Elsa actually is a barista, a waif-like character that passes through life and picks up on the gossip of her customers as she takes their orders and eavesdrops on their first world problems. Like her, Rogers has a quiet confidence – humble and softly spoken, instantly endearing. But this is a talented performer with a concrete grasp of rhythm and metre, a singer who puts a lens to a story and transforms its normality into an extraordinarily spun web of wonder. Elsa is the plain-speaking alter ego, delivering a set that overflows with passionate passive-aggression.
The music itself is a fusion of Spanish acoustic guitar and folk, injected with an ironic, alternative twist. Harmonies are simultaneously discordant and melodious, exposed fifths that leave the emotional outcome capable of going either way. Even the major keyed pieces are tinged with chromaticism but end on an uplifting note, a coda that reminds us we’re observing these lives as outsiders; we can remark on the action without having to live through it. It’s a refreshing distance, a fourth wall where we sit alongside Elsa as the spectators of the daily grind.
Not only is Rogers a talented composer and musician, but she’s an expert in spoken word poetry too. Quick witted, highly intelligent in her composition and at home with the material, Rogers performs lyrical acrobatics as she bobs and weaves her way through each song. The audience are left witnesses – constantly present for the ride, never lost in dialogue and in full agreement with the keen eye that Rogers exhibits for the everyday occurrences.
The fuck ‘n’ chuck culture; the pressure of being digitally perfect; the desire for a boyfriend who is also your Instagram photographer. Elsa works in Covent Garden and so is greeted with whiney, over-sexed and under-developed millennials that we recognise around us, maybe even to a certain extent within ourselves. The rat race romance; the five-year plan for the man to win your hand and stand while you expand your brand; even the image of the perfect professional who takes down time to go on ski holidays – these are the people that order flat whites and whose lives are noteworthy for Elsa.
But Rogers goes one step further – she does many of her characters an extra courtesy by giving them a more layered personality than they may have in real life. The most seemingly vacuous individual is one of great amusement and intrigue to Elsa. It may sound disparaging, but this is a production that lifts us all up, safe in the knowledge that even the dullest of lives can hold nuggets of intrigue.
Rogers ends by reassuring us creative types – the theatre dreamers, creators and aspirational artists that make up the vast majority of her eager public. There is real danger of forgetting yourself in this world amid the hustle & bustle, the seductive corporate pull. Elsa stands apart from all that, as does Rogers. Both are true to themselves, reminding us that we must remain so too.
Elsa plays Assembly Hall as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 27 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.