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Pushing the Boundaries

Theatre review: Influence at the Metro Studio
Paul Terry (left) and Elliot Loran in Influence

Theatre review: Influence at the Metro Studio

A young man is at the cusp of abandoning a solid career in order to pursue his passion for the arts. Plenty of fodder for theatre, to be sure, but when that man is British poet John Keats and he is contemplating his future in the presence of powerful Greek deities, the play goes beyond a coming-of-age story to become an exploration of the nature of creativity, divine inspiration and even the trajectory of the human race.

This is Influence, penned by local playwright Janet Munsil (That Elusive Spark, Circus Fire, The Ugly Duchess). Originally commissioned for Vancouver's Touchstone Theatre and first produced in 2008, this production features an all-new cast and crew that is a who's who of Victoria's creative community. Canadian College of Performing Arts grad Elliot Loran (Ride the Cyclone) plays the young Keats, while Paul Terry (The Importance of Being Earnest) is his mentor, Benjamin Haydon, who insists Keats visit the legendary Elgin Marbles, recently installed in the British Museum after being removed from their temple in Athens. It's a move that greek goddess Athena (Karen Lee Pickett) has taken great offense to, but before she can smite Haydon for his insolence, Apollo (David Radford) materialises to intervene — meanwhile, the forge-god Hephaestus (Ian Case) offers Keats some council.

What ensues is a dense and heady two hours. Munsil's writing is sharp, intelligent and often funny, but this is a play one doesn't want to come into cold; if you don't have a basic understanding of Keats' all-too-brief life or the Greek gods and their relationships with each other, a lot of this play — including some very clever jokes — are going to go over your head. A page in the program providing said info would have been very helpful. Still, the acting here is spectacular and the performers glide through Munsil's script with ease. Given the in-the-round set up that Influence employs — the stage is moved closer to the middle of the Metro, with seating on two sides — one misses a little bit of the action when a performer turns away from one side to face the other, but the pros far outweigh the cons with this interesting set up.

Indeed, one thing Influence does extremely well is showcase the potential of the Metro Studio space. The innovative set up — not to mention the snappy new risers — makes us feel like we are indeed in a museum. Add very strong lighting by David Ferguson, poignant sound design by Miles Lowry (I particularly enjoyed the ominous, bass-heavy hum emanating pre-show and at intermission; it sounded like the systems used to maintain suitable air quality in museums and galleries) and impressive costumes by Erin Macklem  and you have a showcase both of excellent local theatre artists and what our performance spaces are capable of when in the hands of teams willing to push boundaries.

Influence8pm March 9-12, 2pm March 13Metro Studio, 1411 QuadraTickets $