Doug Letheren in Revisor. Photo © Michael Slobodian


Crystal Pite/Jonathon Young: Revisor

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Doug Letheren in Revisor. Photo © Michael Slobodian
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A farce in the fog of post-truth, post-dramatic abstractions… Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young’s Revisor trails a string of questions

Somewhere between absurd Dadaism and operetta silliness, the Russian playwright Nikolai Gogol has a sharp talent for exposing the uglier underbelly of society just as you were laughing out loud. His Inspector General (sometimes known as The Revisor) is a comedy about a low-level clerk mistaken for a high-office inspector, being wined, dined and bribed by a collective of corrupt characters, eager to cover up their dirt and backstab where needed to hold on to their little pockets of power.

Enter Canadians Crystal Pite and her co-creator/writer Jonathon Young. With her command of bodies and his lust for language, plus their company of extraordinarily nimble dancers, they populate the stage with a hugely entertaining collection of whimsical oddballs who could be straight out of a Wes Anderson film. Riding the rhythms of language like music, bodies contort with anxiety, suspicion or greed, faces twist and grimace, lip-syncing to the external voices of a pre-recorded script in a perfect layer of grotesque theatrical alienation. The symbiosis of body and voice, precise to the nail, is astonishing to watch. Brechtian tropes aplenty are thrown onto the stage, as a disembodied voice, like the voice of god, reads out stage directions.

Then, a break. Rewinding the narrative, Pite and Young revisit, repeat and deconstruct previous scenes, loop phrases of text and movement, lose the characters’ costuming (Pite loves a grey t-shirt) to reveal their craft as the ghostly voice talks us through choreographic choices: ‘This is my doing. I have given shape to this.’ Is the voice the director herself? Or the actual revisor? In a fog of post-truth and post-dramatic abstraction, the initial narrative of the farce is lost, disassembled into its smallest atoms. Once the cogs and bolts behind the work have been revealed, it is difficult to reconnect with the original returning characters. They are changed, and maybe so are we. Is there a moral to this story? What does it all mean? Did I get it? As intriguing as it is confusing, this is challenging, complex theatre that leaves you with a ?

The bottom line: A joyful farce fuses theatre and dance to near perfection – before descending into complex abstraction, from which it is hard to recover
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Sadler's Wells Theatre, London. Reviewed 03 March 2020
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2020 tour to Europe, Singapore and South Korea:
11–13.03.20: Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, Netherlands
19–20.03.20: Van Baasbank & Vos, Heerlen, Netherlands
26-27.03.20: Théâtre-Sénart, Sénart, France
01-04.04.20: Théâtre de la Ville, Paris, France
08–09.04.20: La Comète, Châlons-en-Champagne, France
06–08.05.20: Fondazione del Teatro Stabile di Torino ‐ Teatro Nazionale, Torino, Italy
16–17.05.20: Arts House Limited, Singapore
22–23.05.20: LG Arts Center, Seoul, Korea
22–23.06.20: Context. Diana Vishneva Festival, Moscow, Russia
27.06.20: Context. Diana Vishneva Festival, St Petersburg, Russia

Written by: Jonathon Young / Choreographed and directed by: Crystal Pite / Composition and sound design: Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani, Meg Roe / Scenic design and reflective light concept:Jay Gower Taylor / Lighting design: Tom Visser / Costume design: Nancy Bryant / Assistant to the creators: Eric Beauchesne / Co-produced by: Sadler’s Wells (London, UK), Théâtre de la Ville/La Villette (Paris, France), Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity (Banff, Canada), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (North Carolina, US), Canadian Stage (Toronto, Canada), Seattle Theatre Group (Seattle, US), The Hamber Foundation (British Columbia, Canada).

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