by Mark Augustine
Funny! Incredibly harsh but extremely funny! Maja Ardal’s performance in You Fancy Yourself at the Theatre Passe Muraille backspace deserves kudos for the effort and talent she exerts to transform harsh schoolyard life and childhood torment into a comedy juggernaut. This one-woman show will catch the audience off-guard with the clean and deliberate energy that kept me applauding for more even after 2 hours.
You Fancy Yourself is a story told by Elsa, a recent emigrant of Iceland who has landed in Edinburgh, Scotland with her parents. The play begins with Elsa’s retelling of the family’s arrival by sea, their settling in to a new home and Elsa’s meeting with the girl upstairs, her new best friend, Adelle, one of nearly a dozen characters Ardal brings to life onstage.
Elsa’s accounting of her new life brings up familiar childhood adventures and even a few horrors, all of which are somehow made funny by the actress’ clever use of language and her deft impersonation of this wide-eyed six year-old girl.
In plays where we watch characters experience trauma, we are faced with the tender choice of laughter or tears. In this case, the audience chose laughter. Yet, how can we not choose laughter when Elsa relates stories that are all too familiar? We see a teacher who sneers and punishes out of spite, girls who taunt in the schoolyard, and parents who refuse to understand a child’s pain. As I watched this show, all I could think was “Yeah, I remember that. It happened to me too.” And then the laughter would come with a shake of my head and a gratefulness that those days are over.
Choose laughter or choose tears, either way it is a form of commiseration. In the end, Ardal’s writing manifests that jewel of storytelling that so many writers strive for yet so few seem to unearth – comedic irony! There is no real mystery to this show, nor is there a surprise ending. There is, however, a constant stream of stories, characters and settings all magically brought to life by a single woman on a bare stage with a powerful ability to keep the energy high for two hours.
After the show, I asked my friend Leah what her favourite part had been. Leah had a hard time deciding; there were so many. “Probably the singing contest”, she said finally, which I had to agree was pretty entertaining. By herself, Ardal recreates a children’s song contest, four characters singing four Scottish songs back to back.
For me, it is still hard to choose one moment I liked over any other. When I think back, the beginning of the show stands out for the imagery and atmosphere it created. Elsa’s description of the family’s journey on the boat as it arrived in Edinburgh harbour was a chilling account of immigration through the eyes of a child. I was actually sorry I didn’t hear more about that journey on the boat from Iceland.
I asked Leah if she felt there was anything lacking, she winced. “You can always look to find something wrong with a show” she said, “ but if you have to try and think of something then you’re being picky. I thought it was great, overall!” I had to agree. There was nothing about this show I didn’t like. In fact, You Fancy Yourself does that one thing I hope every show will do yet precious few accomplish – it made me forget myself and where I was. It was theatre magic. I’m glad I braved the January winter to go out that night.
You Fancy Yourself is written and performed by Maja Ardal, directed by Mary Francis Moore and designed by Julia Tribe.
– You Fancy Yourself runs from until February 14 at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Avenue
Toronto) in the backspace.
Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm
Ticket prices range from $25 – $28 (general) and $20 – $25 (students/seniors)
Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-504-7529
Photo of Maja Ardal by Mary Francis Moore