Review: The Big Smoke (Theatre Ad Infinitum Canada in association with Why Not Theatre)

Amy Nostbakken’s one-woman show engages through song at Toronto’s Factory Theatre

I’m wary of one-person shows. I’m very wary of one person shows from Fringe Festivals and I’m particularly wary of one person shows from Fringe Festivals about heavy topics like depression. The Big Smoke is all of these but I went to see it at The Factory Theatre Studio Space anyway. The press I saw from its launch at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was very good and I was intrigued by a show that was sung-through, A capella. I was not at all disappointed. The show is a feat for performer Amy Nostbakken, and for director Nir Paldi; the pair of them also wrote the script together.

Perhaps “script” isn’t even the correct word, as the show is almost entirely sung.  But it’s a monologue, an aria if you will, not songs with verses and choruses. Nostbakken plays the character of Natalie, a bright and talented young painter who has a fantastic opportunity to enter the world of high art in London, UK. But Natalie finds she can’t paint. She can barely get out of bed.

Music is very emotive; we’ve probably all been moved by a song that, if we saw the lyrics written on a page, would mean nothing to us. In The Big Smoke Nostbakken is telling a story that is very relatable, and very sad, and singing it makes it all the sadder.

There is some humour in places. Nostbakken is very physically adept, interacting with the space for effect, and to create different characters and places. She and Paldo met while they were both attending the L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq, which is a renowned school of physical theatre. The elements of mime are clear in the piece and help not only by contributing a comic element here and there but also by making the settings very specific and easy to imagine onto the bare stage.

My companion felt she lost interest toward the end, when it becomes clear how the tale will turn out. As mentioned, I had read some of the promotional material on the show so I had an inkling of where it might be going. But I was so wrapped up in the story that I totally forgot about the end until it was about to happen. I’m not indicating it’s a surprise ending; it certainly isn’t. But I found Nostbakken’s performance engaging the entire time.

Ad Infinitum is an international troupe based in London, UK but Nostbakken herself has recently moved back to Canada, her country of origin. So it’s likely Toronto will get to see more plays from this adventurous group. I’m looking forward to it.


The Big Smoke plays at The Factory Theatre Studio Space (125 Bathurst St) till March 4, 2012
– Showtimes are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2:30 pm
– Tickets are  Tuesday-Saturday $25 (Student/Senior $18), Sunday Pay-What-You-Can (suggested donation $15.00)
– Tickets are available through Factory Theatre Box Office at 416 504-9971 or online at

Photo by Ryan Garside

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