Revisor (Online review)

Revisor (Online review)

Revisor (Online review)

Nikolai Gogol’s satire The Government Inspector has long been a dramatic staple but has almost certainly never before been given the treatment accorded to it in the theatrical/dance mash up Revisor. Canadian company Kidd Pivot, choreographer/director Crystal Pite and writer/performer Jonathan Young create a stunning set of sequences which virtually create a new form of performance art.


The plot of The Government Inspector (in Russian, Revizor) concerns a bad case of mistaken identity. A young non-descript official is mistaken for a fully-fledged government inspector by a local authority corrupt to the core and desperate to hide it. Headed by the Director of The Complex the locals band together to wine, dine and generally suck up to the Revisor who begins to enjoy himself immensely as his power over them begins to grow. That’s as far as this version takes the original storyline but the way in which it is presented makes something completely fresh out of this relatively well worn material. For instead of being just a play or just a dance production the two elements are cunningly combined. The characters move in a highly stylised fashion  with exaggerated puppet like movements as though being manipulated by an unseen hand. They move their mouths in time to the dialogue which is actually being performed by a set of offstage actors (whether literally or via a vocal track I couldn’t decide) which again heightens and exaggerates everything. The comic effect produced is highly unusual and eminently watchable.


Then, at around thirty five minutes in, the production changes tack completely and returns to its starting point playing a revised (!!) version of the action. This time the sets are rudimentary, the stylised costumes have disappeared and the off stage actors’ voices become fragmented and distorted. The dancers work through the same sequence of events as though in a rehearsal which stops and starts, rewinds and replays. All of this is played out to the sound of the disembodied voice of a choreographer making notes about the performance and developing it as it proceeds. The dancers are no longer characters in a play but “figures” who are instructed to move this way and that; thus, the theme of manipulation continues. Although this section is quite haunting and puts an interesting spin on proceedings it was less to my personal taste. While I could appreciate the skill of the performers in interpreting the choreographer’s instructions, I found myself wishing it could have continued in its original vein. For dance aficionados, however, I’m sure the reverse would be true.


There is a brief return to the original format towards the end of the piece. This time the audience is conscious of the process by which the concept has been created and as part of our viewing now we take into account how the final result has been achieved. It’s a bit like seeing the third act of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off after we have gained an understanding of what’s going on backstage and our view of proceedings is coloured by that experience.

As I’ve already indicated, the performers are highly skilled and contrive to adopt shapes which are sometimes mind boggling. The stand outs for me were the Postmaster played by Jermaine Spivey and the Director played by Doug Letheren. They open the show with a sequence of exaggerated movement and lip synching which sets the tone for the show and put me in mind of the work of legendary American animator Tex Avery; however, this cartoon is infinitely more disturbing. Lighting and sound contribute significantly to the mood (or rather moods) of the piece and there is a highly striking “reflective light concept” by Jay Gower Taylor.


The piece was just about to embark on tour having been at Saddlers Wells when coronavirus struck so it was fortunate that the BBC captured it on film. I’m sure that if you like dance theatre then you will relish the chance to catch this performance. While I admired the show wholeheartedly, I probably only fully enjoyed about a third of it… but I think that probably comes down to my own personal preferences rather than any shortcomings of the piece itself.

 Production photos by Michael Slobodian

Revisor is available on the BBC iPlayer. Click here

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