Girl. Guitar. Grounds. Coffee grounds, that is. The girl (with guitar) is Elsa and she works, part-time, as a waitress in a coffee bar. Whilst the work provides her with a living, the perks (sorry about that) provide her with a lifeline: the principle perk being the granting of full and unfettered access to the intense and elaborate coffee-chats of the diurnal imbibers: yes, Elsa is a professional eavesdropper.
This highly original one-person show by Isobel Rogers is captivating. Through-composed, Rogers creates a kind of musical stream of consciousness – a sometimes light-hearted, sometimes moody, sometimes cuttingly satirical exploration of what is said or whispered or shouted over society’s Starbuckian drink of morning/lunch/tea-break choice and it’s all instantly familiar. Morning-after regrets, office politics, personality-defining obsessions are all there in carefully crafted songs delivered with a lightness of touch which is both disarming and edgy at the same time. Rogers has a lovely voice and a deft resonance when conveying her withering punch-lines which have the audience laughing away with cattle-prod recognition. We’ve all been there; we’ve all listened-in intently to the couple at the next table; we’ve all got carried away with our own bitch-of-the-day in over-loud declamatory tones and we have all, no doubt, been subtly overheard by the Elsas of this world.
At one point Elsa breaks out of the shackles of her auditory distractions, jumping off her high stool, discarding her guitar, picking up the mike and, in true rap singer finger-flicking fashion, gives a taste of her own wannabe-artist’s thoughts and desires and motivations with a hard-edged, vernacular-led, full-flow rap to a taped backbeat that is highly entertaining but also puts on show the musical versatility that marks out Rogers as a special talent.
She is helped by some exquisite lighting in the mausoleum-like, bricked-arch cavern of the Vault’s Pit venue – built long before coffee was invented (in its present global-conglomerate form, that is) though I’m sure that coffee houses down the centuries have always had the preeners, the peacocks, the powder puffs and the pricks that Rogers delineates here. She gets the foibles, the mannerisms and the character traits to a tee in what is a refreshingly inventive piece of musical drama.
The Vault Festival is a magnificent component of the London Arts Scene – 181 shows over a couple of months by my calculation – and Elsa is a great example of the talent on display, the creativity it inspires and the self-belief that is integral to its burgeoning success. Do go and see it if you get the chance.
Review by Peter Yates
Half-hearted waitress Elsa works in a cafe, eavesdropping on overly-earnest coffee chats, regretful memories of the night before, and exhausting tales of the rat race, as she struggles to make sense of a world that doesn’t feel like her own.
In this musical comedy, Isobel Rogers seamlessly transitions between character comedy, hilarious satirical songs, and off-the-cuff stand-up to transform into characters who conceal their truth. With her unique lyrical songwriting, Rogers finds deeper meaning in our everyday obsessions and aspirations, asking us to question what it means to be a young woman today.
Created and performed by Isobel Rogers | Directed by Sara Joyce
14 — 18 Feb 2018