Gogol’s satirical comedy becomes a spellbinding movement piece about truth, lies, and power.
|Category||Score (out of 10)|
|Direction/Choreography (Crystal Pite)||10|
|Writer (Jonathon Young)||10|
|Music / Sound Design (Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani, Meg Roe)||10|
|Performance (Renée Sigouin, Doug Letheren, Rakeem Hardy, Rena Narumi, Ella Rothschild, Brandon Alley, Jennifer Florentino, Gregory Lau)||10|
|Scenic Design (Jay Gower Taylor)||10|
|Costume Design (Nancy Bryant)||10|
|Lighting Design (Tom Visser)||10|
When it was published in 1936, Russian writer Nikolai Gogol’s satirical play Revizor (The Government Inspector) drew outcry for its supposedly sinister comedy, requiring then-Emperor Tsar Nicholas I to intercede and declare it merely a ‘cheerful mockery’ and have it staged. Now, in a world full of obviously corrupt officials and political mayhem in every corner of the planet, the play feels more relevant than ever before, reminding us of their continued presence across time and space, and the ending, a grand hope for much-deserved justice and comeuppance.
In Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young’s interpretation of the play for Canadian dance company Kidd Pivot, Revizor has now been renamed to Revisor, punning on its core plot of mistaking a low-ranking civil servant for said government inspector, while bringing to mind themes of revision and the manipulation of murky truths. And unlike a straight staging of the play itself, under Pite’s direction and Young’s revised script, Revisor becomes an epic comedy of errors that exaggerates every scene with hyperbolic choreography, emphasising their almost plasticine bodies as they caricature each character to comedic extremes. Yet, amidst the light-hearted tomfoolery, there lies a streak of untamed, wild darkness that lurks beneath, constantly threatening to burst forth and send a chill down our very soul.
Moving away from its original Russian setting, Revisor is now instead set in an unnamed, provincial Complex. Throughout the performance, it is strongly suggested that the officials in charge of the Complex are all disgraced individuals, sent away from the more prestigious capital and punished for their sins in this no man’s land. Upon receiving news that a government inspector from the capital has arrived in plainclothes at the premises to audit them, the officials embark on a grand witch hunt to find him, and get him on their side in the hopes of fulfilling their own private agendas. The problem arises when they mistake an ordinary revisor for the inspector, who runs with it to enjoy the lavish parties and bribes thrust upon him. Upon finding himself privy to increasingly dark secrets and dirty corruption, he vows to destroy them once and for all when he returns to the capital, in a devastating tell-all to be leaked to the papers.
Circumventing the need to establish clear characters while performing complex choreography, rather than having the dancers act out their characters, Kidd Pivot has instead opted to have them lip sync to pre-recorded lines instead. This results in a fascinating duality that is both restrictive and freeing. Much like a musical soundtrack, the dancers are further locked into this ‘spoken score’, controlling their mouths as they match the rhythm and speed of the lines. At the same time, without having to act, the dancers’ bodies are almost completely freed, and we watch as they leap across the stage, exaggerating every movement to cartoonish effect. In many ways, one thinks of animated films when watching Revisor, fully committing to its satirical form by showcasing these corrupt individuals as performative, deliriously lacking in self-awareness, and stretching each hilarious line out for literal laugh-out-loud moments.
Music remains key for any dance production, and Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani, Meg Roe’s score is appropriately foreboding, with the occasional sound of thunder emblematic of a dark and stormy night, or far more epic and ominous, suggesting an entire world out there that’s fraying at the edges from all these immoral actions. These layer on to Jay Gower Taylor’s scenic design, which require only a few choice set pieces, such as a chandelier, a chaise lounge, a large desk or even a portcullis, that help evoke the space as a massive, maze-like castle beyond what our eyes can perceive. Nancy Bryant’s costumes are similarly well-designed, and are gloriously precise and detailed to show off each character’s personality, while giving them enough room to move their bodies. Highlights include the resplendant military regalia donned by the Director of the Complex that shows off his badges and furred hat (complete with animal skull), or Culture Minister Desouza’s impressive headpiece that resembles a religious halo, in black. The Director’s wife, in a pink silk dress, stands out as the only breath of colour amidst the earth tones and represents her flightier, ditzier personality, while the ‘Revisor’ himself wears a magnificent, structured navy coat accessorised with chains, pocket square and scarf.
The cast of Renée Sigouin, Doug Letheren, Rakeem Hardy, Rena Narumi, Ella Rothschild, Brandon Alley, Jennifer Florentino, and Gregory Lau are fantastic together. It’s clear that this group has been working as an ensemble together for a long time, and for those playing the corrupt officials, it feels as if there is a synchronised internal metronome that they follow, as they move in tandem with each other in group scenes, an axis of evil. Rakeem Hardy and Rena Narumi, as Postmaster Wieland and Interrogator Klak, allow themselves to move as if possessed by an external force, their control no longer their own as their characters react in extreme across their face and body. Existing as middlemen to fulfil their Director’s orders, their movements seem to represent the impossible position they’re put in, wanting to go beyond what their role stipulates, but restricted by their lack of power. As Minister Desouza, Ella Rothschild feels sinister and deranged, her movements a complete surprise each time she appears, while Jennifer Florentino, as the Director’s wife, is always in character, a lightness to her body that makes her seem ‘easy’, and always flirtatious.
Doug Letheren, as the Director, is essentially the the biggest antagonist, and exudes an aura of villainy from the moment he appears. Despite his rugged appearance, there is a smoothness to his movements, a ferocity to every step, and an uncanny ability to ham up the comic elements of his character. The latter is felt especially when he is sidling up to Gregory Lau’s ‘Revisor’, and the two engage in a curious tango of ‘will they won’t they’, as they keep up the pretense of their true identities and intents, sidling up uncomfortably close to each other, like two animals locked in combat. Lau is also a force to be reckoned with, and during the party scene, commands the entire stage as he drunkenly recaps his past, where even slow movements are perfectly controlled, his steel gaze fixed on the corrupt officials, before he is picked up by Brandon Alley (as the ‘Revisor”s assistant) and swung about for comic relief.
Where Revisor elevates itself beyond just a ‘dance-play’ is in the second act, where the true inspector reveals herself as a disembodied voice, the one who has been narrating the events all along. Breaking away entirely from the forward narrative movement, this ‘inspection’ segment of the performance instead recaps the entire first act in a more distanced way. Characters are only referenced to as numbered figures interacting and encountering each other, and gone are the costumes they donned, replaced with drab tees and pants, reminiscent of offstage, rehearsal attire. This entire sequence seems to offer a glimpse into a choreographer/director’s mind, as each scene is abstracted and deconstructed to its component parts, as if breaking it down as a means of clinically analysing the structure, offering opportunity to revise and re-choreograph from a different perspective.
It is also here that the dancers are further challenged to repeat their previous act’s movements, but in a far different manner. There are moments that they literally convulse with energy, or repeat the same minute movements again and again for the sake of the ‘inspection’, magnified and zoomed in on for criticism and assessment. All of this is enhanced by Tom Visser’s lighting design, where sparks seems to flash across the screen at the back, distorting each scene before it begins, and in one particularly disturbing scene, a character initially played for laughs is inverted, becoming a nightmarish, horned creature that lurks in the subconscious, and seems to suggest that nothing we see can truly be taken at face value, and reality and perception itself is a construct. It is akin to putting back the pieces of a lucid dream, seeing a truth beneath the surface, and attempting to merge those realities to form a coherent whole.
When the scene reverts to ‘normal’ for the third and final act, the dancers returning to their previous elasticity as they play with each other, we are left to question how much of what we see before us can be trusted. The way even these supposed allies are all ready to backstab each other, that it’s every man for himself, and how no one’s identity is ever set in stone, Revisor seems to go far beyond a performance that’s about making corrupt bureaucracy a piece of entertainment. What makes it so brilliant is that it lures you in with its thoroughly arresting setting and talent, before holding you up by the throat, putting language, power and the truth itself up on trial.
By its end, you acknowledge that this is a wickedly funny performance. It is reassuring in that these ‘bad guys’ are punished, yet we are left to wonder, if the nature of this world is inherent distrust with how nobody is telling the truth, exactly how deep does the rabbit hole go, and how far would we go to pursue the truth at the expense of our own sanity? Revisor has done all that and more, pulling apart the very fabric of truth and reality with its form and presentation, while remaining wildly entertaining and professionally executed. This is a performance that can and should be enjoyed on multiple levels, that engages at both a base level and an intellectual one, all while addressing incredibly important, universal issues present in the world today. Rarely does such a show come along that leaves you both breathless and inspired.
Revisor ran from 5th to 6th May 2023 at the Esplanade Theatre. More information available here
da:ns focus events run from 14th to 16th Apr 2023, 5th to 7th May 2023, 13th to 15th Oct 2023, 1st to 3rd Dec 2023 and Mar 2024. More information available here
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