There’s Much to Fancy in Ardal’s Show

One of my favourite things to do is having rich, dynamic, conversations with people who are passionate about the theatre. This explains my delight in having the opportunity to interview theatre artists here on the blog. One of the many benefits of these discussions is that I am often given suggestions of which shows I should see, and which performers I should keep an extra close eye on. So, when Naomi Snieckus mentioned in an interview we did that one of the most inspirational pieces of theatre she had seen was Maja Ardal’s You Fancy Yourself, I quickly made plans to head down to Theatre Passe Muraille and check it out. Thanks Naomi.
You Fancy Yourself (directed by Mary Francis Moore) is a tour-de-force one-woman-show written and performed by Maja Ardal based on her childhood experiences as an Icelandic-born girl growing up in Edinburgh, Scotland. The story is rich with different characters and accents, and spans eight years in the life of the protagonist, Elsa, and Ardal acts like the storyteller of a child’s dream, a grownup who can do all the voices.
In a way, this play is quite simple; it perfectly captures the experience of being a little girl and the interactions we have at school- especially with other little girls- as we grow. It captures an experience that I think can be generalized to some extent, an experience that I think is inherent in us regardless of our culture, religion, location or time. And that is quite remarkable. On second glance, there is something else going on in this show. Ardal has created a work that speaks poignantly and perceptively about children, bullying, and issues of class, heritage and self-esteem, while being rooted firmly in the world of a child, without ever seeming at all didactic, false, clichéd, or juvenile. That, I think, is extraordinary.
The strength of this show is in Ardal’s performance, and most importantly in the construction of her characters. I work with small children all summer and pride myself on being fairly childlike myself, and I very rarely see portraits of children created by adults that fairly and respectfully portray their spirit, intrinsic complexity and contradiction, their penchant toward imagination, and the way that they chose to express themselves. The children in You Fancy Yourself burst from Ardal with so much enthusiasm and depth and conviction, you forget that she is a 59-year-old woman. Elsa is a child to believe in, one who dares you not to fall in love with her, or at least to be a smidgen charmed and amused. She reminded me so specifically of a little girl I taught in Halifax, it was incredible to see this almost-six-year-old’s personality placed in an entirely different time and place by a woman she will probably never meet. Other remarkable moments include watching Ardal sing as poor, mumbly, potato-eared David MacDonald, her portrayal of the terrifying Scrubbing Lady, and the way she presents the schoolteacher, Miss Campbell, a distant cousin for sure of Hetty King from Road to Avonlea.
Ardal said in an interview for The Star that it took her time to confront the flaws in her childhood self and to honestly admit that she had not always been the hero in the storybook of her friends’ lives. She had been selfish, jealous, and focused on being liked and accepted by the popular “horse club” girls. The truth, though, I’m sure, is that as children we have all had our heroic moments where we touched the lives of some other child, but we have also all met with jealousy, selfishness and the human need for acceptance. And that’s okay. You Fancy Yourself is not about any moment of realization a child may have, but a celebration of the journey we have all embarked on, quite separately, and yet in tandem, to grow, and learn, and then go out to conquer. The six year old in me was delighted. The twenty-four year old me is very impressed. You Fancy Yourself is presented by Contrary Company in associated with Theatre Passe Muraille in their Backspace until February 14th, 2009. For tickets call 416.504.7529 or visit their website.

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