It must have been hard for Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young to live up to the success of 2016’s devastating Betroffenheit. In Revisor, their imaginative retelling of Nikolai Gogol’s satirical comedy of errors The Government Inspector (Revizor in the original Russian), Pite and Young draw on familiar techniques: dancers from Pite’s company, Kidd Pivot, lip-sync to actors’ voiceovers, their movements synchronising with, or playing off, the text.
Ghoulish and farcical, Pite’s choreography is knife-sharp, the performers eye-wateringly good. Imagine watching a stage full of puppets, twitching without strings, sashaying between menace and campy drama. Rena Narumi, as thuggish Interrogator Klak, and Tiffany Tregarthen as the skittish Revisor (voiced by Young himself), are particularly good.
Anyone familiar with Betroffenheit and waiting for the left hook straight to the heart won’t be disappointed. The pantomime-for-grown-ups version of The Government Inspector breaks down and crumbles away. The soundtrack judders. The stage is reset. The performers return, but wearing slacks and T-shirts instead of character-appropriate uniforms. A voiceover (Meg Roe) replays and narrates every movement in every scene. Arms fold and unfold as lies unfurl; performers manipulate each other’s limbs in spiderlike symbiosis, each trying to gain the upper hand; bodies contort, choking on unspoken words.
A nightmarish quality permeates Revisor. The audience is lured in by a fairground scare act — a little Gothic, a little weird, a little violent — but when things collapse, there’s real fear and strangeness in every soupy, glitching movement. Between Roe’s anxious narration, which stumbles and repeats itself, and the contortions on stage, it’s like being inside a nervous breakdown.
In the hands of a lesser creative team, this narrative revision could seem a bit distasteful, particularly when Jermaine Spivey’s Postmaster flickers and moshes to a voiceover barking, ‘Kill the comedy, kill the comedy, kill the comedy.’