Stage Left: Teen brings Curious character to life in stellar Theatre Inconnu production

Adrian Chamberlain mugshot generic

It’s well worth seeking out Theatre Inconnu’s sharply entertaining production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Plenty of fine things are happening in this well-rehearsed show. Amidst a solid cast, Finn Kelly particularly stands out as Christopher, an autistic teen struggling in a world fraught with confusion and peppered with paradox.

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At a preview show this week, 17-year-old Kelly — red-cheeked and tousle-haired — delivered a terrific performance.

He captured the rhythmically repetitive cadences of an autistic person, the reluctance to meet another’s eyes in conversation, the laser-beam focus on tasks in a way that seems socially peculiar.

At the same time, the young actor, nervously clutching a backpack strap, brought out Christopher’s vulnerability in a genuine way that sidestepped sentimentality.

The role is immense — Christopher yammers almost non-stop. It’s an unusually difficult feat of memorization, as the part is stuffed with nitpicking detail: recitations of prime numbers and so on (Christopher is a mathematics prodigy). Kelly, a highly promising actor, did a beautiful job.

This well-directed, well-acted play — performed in the round — is adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s popular 2003 novel.

Set in the English town of Swindon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time begins with a disturbing scene. Christopher discovers a dead dog killed by a garden fork. When a policeman arrives, the distraught teen instinctively punches him because he can’t stand human touch.

The incident sets a discomfiting tone that persists throughout. Due to his condition, Christopher is continually at odds with the world. His father (played by Wayne Yercha with pleasing intensity and a dodgy Irish accent) finds his son impossible to handle.

Despite being gifted, Christopher is arbitrarily relegated to a special-needs school where a developmentally challenged classmate defecates on the floor.

When Christopher eventually sets off to London to find his mother, it becomes an epic journey in which commonplace things such as trains, ATM machines and escalators become monumental obstacles.

The movement in this production, overseen by director Kate Rubin and coach Ingrid Hansen, is remarkably well done. There’s a wonderful scene in which the cast becomes a space ship during Christopher’s astronaut fantasy.

Also memorable is a sequence depicting a train station as a swirling slice of life — complete with buzzing bees and scuttling rats. Such stage business adds immensely to the show — indeed, it’s almost the best part.

Three overhead screens depict everything from constellations to simple illustrations. There are multitudinous cues in the production, all deftly navigated.

This is among the best productions I’ve seen from Theatre Inconnu. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time continues to Feb. 29.

As the 20th century came to a close, Alan Ayckbourn had seemingly done it all. The playwright was — and remains — a titan of British comedy, celebrated for such works as A Chorus of Disapproval and The Norman Conquests trilogy.

The University of Victoria has revived Ayckbourn’s 1998 play Comic Potential.

The production boasts standout performances from the lead actors and a stellar set. Yet overall, it’s a curious offering.

The comedy is set in a murky future in which cost-saving robot actors — called “actoids” — appear in TV shows. There are funny moments, yet it seems Ayckbourn, who has so far written a whopping 79 plays, was overreaching with this sci-fi romp.

In Comic Potential, an aspiring TV writer, Adam, meets his hero Chandler (Carter Gulseth), a film director now overseeing a hack soap opera acted by actoids. Adam falls in love with one of the actoids, Jacie, who displays a startling propensity for human emotion.

In a Pygmalion-like turn of events, Adam grooms Jacie to be the star of his new TV show and, more ambitiously, teaches her how to act human. In true Henry Higgins fashion, he becomes frustrated when the going gets rocky (for instance, Jacie innocently dons a clothing bag while trying on outfits in a shop).

The critically acclaimed Comic Potential was nominated for Tony awards at the time. Today, it seems rather dated, a sort of Spock-era Star Trek reboot. As well, the play seems not to quite know whether it wants to be a drama or a comedy, giving the proceedings an uneasy mish-mash feel.

Opening night featured several superior performances. There was the talented Una Rekic, who offered a confident, exuberant turn as Jacie, successfully portraying the android’s transformation from Eliza Dolittle compliance to curiously human ambitiousness.

As Adam, Ciaran Volke also impressed, displaying (like Rekic) a self-assured ability to “own” the stage in an energetic and engaging manner.

Both actors wowed the audience with a sharply rehearsed swing dance choreographed by Jacques Lemay. Gulseth, as the caddish and boozy Chandler, also had good moments, despite being a half-century too young for the role.

Leah Anthony’s futuristic sets (echoes of A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey) are bold, stylish and pleasingly minimalistic. The show continues at the Phoenix Theatre to Feb. 22.

Renowned for her bold and inventive choreography, Victoria’s Crystal Pite has become a bona fide star in the international dance scene.

Last weekend, her full-length dance Revisor, created with Jonathon Young, played to appreciative hometown audiences at the Royal Theatre. This 2019 Kidd Pivot work is a reinvention of Gogol’s 1836 play The Inspector General, in which a lowly civil servant is mistaken for a high-ranking politician by a small-town mayor and officials.

The dance offers two distinctly contrasting styles. It commences and finishes with a literal, over-the-top interpretation of Gogol’s tale. In these segments, the dancers, wearing period costumes, mime and lip-synch to a recorded narrative.

The movement is so frenetic and exaggerated, it becomes a satire of a satire, perhaps recalling the grotesque caricatures of Toulouse-Lautrec and George Grosz.

The other style, seen in an extended middle section, is more abstract. The story is retold, but in a meta-theatrical shift, it’s now related from the choreographer’s perspective.

Here, the dancers abandon old-fashioned dress for modern wear. The movement sheds its marionette-like sense of exaggeration — becoming more naturalistic and less angular — yet the sense of intensity and power remains undiminished.

With its scenes of ludicrous corruption (bribes are constantly proffered), Revisor can be seen as a critique of Trump-era politics.

The difference between the contrasting dance styles is profound. Some will find it invigorating; I found it rather jarring and wondered how cohesively it held together.

The technical level of dance was nothing short of superb — another example of the top-flight performances Dance Victoria regularly brings to this city.

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