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, 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 ?