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Maja Ardal enthrals audience with delightful solo show

By Alejandro Bustos on October 18, 2013

Several good plays have been performed in Ottawa over the last few months.  While some have been quite enjoyable, (others not so much), up to now no recent theatrical production in the city could be called a true standout.

This has now changed with You Fancy Yourself, the award-winning solo show written and performed by Maja Ardal, which is playing at the Great Canadian Theatre Company until November 3.

Based on Ardal’s childhood, this semi-autobiographical account tells the story of the fictional Elsa, a young girl who moves from Iceland to Scotland in 1953.  Desperate to fit it, Elsa befriends a young girl named Adelle who lives in the flat upstairs.  This friendship is tested on the school playground, however, as childhood insecurities, bullying and puppy love test the lengths of loyalty and compassion.

Ardal plays 11 different characters in the play, from strict teachers to her Icelandic mother to Adelle’s brother to several classmates, each with a different personality.  Her flawless ability to switch roles is truly impressive.

Her narrative ability, meanwhile, is excellent.  While listening to her wonderful dialogue, I felt that I was seeing a great children’s book come to life, filled with poetic descriptions and the joyful wonders (and occasional cruelty) of childhood.

Maja Ardal was born in 1949 in Siglufjörður, a small fishing village in the north of Iceland.  She was educated in Edinburgh, Scotland, and came to Canada in 1970 where she started to work as a theatre professional.

Maja Ardal 2

Photo of Maja Ardal by GCTC/Andrew Alexander.

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You Fancy Yourself premiered at the 2006 SummerWorks Performance Festival in Toronto.  The original production consisted of a 50-minute performance, but became longer when it was adapted to the stage.

(The play) became a two act piece of about 80 minutes when it was produced in theatres,” explained Ardal in a previous interview.  “I had tons of material and just dipped back into it when the play was being prepared for theatres and touring. Now I have two versions of the script: the one act play and the two act play.  This has come in handy.”

Following her SummerWorks show, Ardal’s adapted the play for the theatre stage and was a hit in Toronto.  She went on to win a 2009 Dora Award for outstanding performance by a female.  (The Dora’s are presented annually by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts to honour opera, theatre and dance productions in that city).

Ardal was originally scheduled to perform You Fancy Yourself at the GCTC in January 2011.  However, the show was cancelled after she was diagnosed with uterine cancer.  Fortunately, the disease was caught early, and Ardal is now in the nation’s capital to perform her play.

Her recovery has been impressive, given that this demanding show requires her to play multiple roles, which will captivate audiences.  In my view, the resulting play is the best theatrical performance to hit the stage in our nation’s capital so far this fall.

You Fancy Yourself is at the GCTC at 1233 Wellington St. West until November 3.  Showtimes are at 8 pm, Tuesday-Friday, Saturday at 4 and 8:30 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm.  Regular tickets start are $30, while less expensive last minute tickets can be obtained at noon on the day of each performance. The show this coming Sunday is pay-what-you-can.