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Madeleine Hall in Ethel at Undercurrents. Photo courtesy of Ottawa Fringe.

Theatre Review: Ethel at Undercurrents—until Mar. 13

By Amanda Armstrong on March 11, 2021

It was the opening night of Undercurrents and, while we found ourselves seated on our living room couch, rather than in a crowded theatre at Arts Court, it was exciting to know that we would be watching a piece of live theatre, streamed from the stage itself. A link arrived in my inbox before showtime and we opened it, waiting patiently for the play to begin.

The stage opens on a minimal set: a few chairs, a trio of lamps, and a box of small objects that make their appearance throughout the course of this touching piece of storytelling, as told by Madeleine Hall. Over the next 50 minutes, we get to know the story of Ethel, as seen through the eyes of her granddaughter, who has found herself one of Ethel’s primary caregivers as she navigates the world of hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and long-term care homes. The musical accompaniment by Ottawa composer Julien Dussault (Pony Girl, Gianna Lauren, mal/aimé) compliments the piece beautifully. It ebbs and flows throughout the performance and enhances the one-person narrative.

Madeleine Hall in Ethel at Undercurrents. Photo courtesy of Ottawa Fringe.

This story will pull at your heart strings and leave you with tears in your eyes.

For anyone who has ever found themselves in the position of caring for an elderly grandparent during their final few years, this story will pull at your heart strings and leave you with tears in your eyes. Hall’s impressive account of a life winding down envelopes you, and you feel like you are transported to Ethel’s bedside, a fly on the wall as you watch Ethel and Madeleine go about their time together. All the while you are thinking of the time when you found yourself in a similar position, as a grandchild now grown, getting to know your grandparent as the person they are, the person they were, outside of their role as “grandma” or “grandpa” throughout your childhood.

This is the first piece of live theatre I have seen during the pandemic and I have to say, I was impressed. The performance captures your focus, just as it would from the theatre in years past, so much so that, if you turn down the lights in your house, it is almost as though you are there again—until it ends and the audience fails to erupt in applause around you.


Ethel by Madeleine Hall plays at the Undercurrents Festival on March 12 at 8:30pm and March 13 at 7pm. The show is taped behind closed doors at Arts Court Theatre and broadcast live. Tickets cost $5–100 (pick your price). Visit undercurrentsfestival.ca for the full lineup and schedule.