YOU FANCY YOURSELF by Maja Ardal, directed by Mary Francis Moore (Contrary Company). At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). To February 14, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm. $20-$28. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNN
At the outset of this solo show, young Elsa (Maja Ardal) emigrates from Iceland to the sooty, industrial shores of post-war Edinburgh. As Elsa explores her Scottish surroundings a touching coming-of-age tale unfolds within this refreshing take on the old immigrant-experience trope.
Keeping with the theme of travel, director Mary Francis Moore and designer Julia Tribe pursue a fitting less-is-more approach, leaving Ardal onstage with nothing more than a traveling trunk. Markedly few lighting changes and very minimal prop use mean that Ardal is on her own to hold the audiences' attention - something she thankfully does quite well. That Ardal - a veteran writer/director/actor - is skilled at playing characters of all ages should come as no surprise, given her past life as Artistic Director of Young People's Theatre (now Lorraine Kimsa Theatre).
Quickly switching between a cast of eleven characters - some Scots, some Icelandic - Ardal vividly constructs Elsa's new world. Pushy parents, impoverished neighbours, a ghoulish scrub lady, cliquey classmates, and her first crush, all interact without Ardal ever missing a beat. Eschewing distracting rapid-fire costume changes, Ardal creates her well-defined characters with posture, facial expressions and voice work alone - no easy feat.
What makes Ardal such a captivating performer is her total immersion in each and every role. Even if she's only playing a character for a few seconds, the switch registers not just in her posture or voice, but in her eyes themselves.