Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: (Toronto) The Big Smoke

A Solo Fails to Stir
Structure and script hamper a tale of life and death
by Beat Rice

The Big Smoke is a unique one-woman show that is also a different kind of musical. The narrative is sung and in some parts spoken by co-writer, composer, and performer Amy Nostbakken. The play is sung in a jazzy style and is done entirely a cappella.
The story follows Nathalie's last summer before she dies. She is a young painter from Toronto, in London to compete for an exhibition spot. She tells us about the gallery openings and shows she and the other young artists attend, of raunchy nights in clubs, and of trysts with different men. It was unoriginal and shallow. We do not find out enough about the character's nature to care about her decline in the end. There were many details in the story-telling that felt petty and made the show longer than it needed to be. Detailed descriptions are effective when one knows why they are being provided.

the piece as a whole did not tell an engaging story

Although Nostbakken has a great, warm, sultry singing voice, the jazzy song style did not match the decline of Nathalie's psychological state. It was confusing. Perhaps it was meant to juxtapose her emotional state. If so it was not clear. There were also moments in the narrative where some parts were spoken. The reasons for choosing to sing some parts and speak in sing-song, was also not very clear. For instance, when Nathalie is acting out other characters in a certain vocal style, the change makes sense, but when being herself and describing an event that happened to her, it does not.
Although I appreciate the venture into something new, such as singing poetic narrative, the piece as a whole did not tell an engaging story. Yes, it is one that a lot of people can probably relate to, but it needs to have more than that to move whole audiences.

The Big Smoke presented by Theatre Ad Infinitum Canada in association with Why Not Theatre
Directed by Nir Paldi
Written by Amy Nostbakken and Nir Paldi
Composed and Performed by Amy Nostbakken


  1. I don't agree. I thought The Big Smoke was amazing and a production that I can't stop thinking about.

  2. hmmm, not sure we were at the same performance? Not only engaging but moving. Glad Toronto has theatre has found something like this.


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