Gogol’s work, Revizor in Russian, known in English as The Inspector General, centres on a case of mistaken identity, when its feckless protagonist, Khlestakov, is wrongly assumed to be the government inspector, whom a small Russian town is awaiting amid much trepidation.
Jonathon Young’s text, pre-recorded by a cast of actors, follows Gogol’s in that it tells the story, but is more than just literal storytelling: by changing Revizor into Revisor, ie someone responsible for adjusting legal texts, Young adds yet another layer of meaning to a richly thought-provoking work.
As Revisor starts, a female voice is heard listing the props on stage, desk, lamp, papers and so on but, unhappy with the text, stops herself and starts again. And again. Here we have the text interrogating and revising itself.
Enter the main characters: the Director of the Complex (a towering performance by Doug Letheren), his wife, assorted officials, and the Postmaster (the superb Jermaine Spivey).
All are grotesque in heightened farcical fashion, their jerky movements bombastic, hands clutching heads in a parody of growing panic, facial expressions contorted. But here’s the most extraordinary thing: even as they dance, all are lip-synching to the recorded text in such a skilful way that you’re hard pressed to believe they are not actually speaking the words themselves.
In keeping with its role as an imposter, The Revisor is danced by a woman, Tiffany Tregarthen, her face enveloped in a false beard.
Where Pite and Young’s work transcends its source, however, is in their decision to add a middle section where they go beyond the surface of the story to search for what lies beneath, the soul, if you like, of the narrative and its characters.
The costumes go, as do Tregarthen’s beard and the heavy coat that disguised her gender. Now the dancers, plunged in penumbra (skilful lighting design by Tom Visser to a concept by regular Pite collaborator Jay Gower Taylor) become actual people, dancing to a distant soundscape and the stop-start rhythm of the spoken word. In groups, swirling as a human wave, or in pairs, they become immensely human and vulnerable. At one point they face the audience, the light spilling over the stalls, as if interrogating us.
This middle section is profoundly engaging, moving even, with its slight hint of human frailty and possible redemption.
Revisor ends where it began back in the Russian village, as the characters realise they’ve been had and a dark despair descends upon them.
Pite and Young’s Revisor is that rare thing: a deeply theatrical work of artistic and intellectual heft, marking a new stage in a collaboration that started four years ago with the stunning Betroffenheit and clearly still has places to go.
|What||Crystal Pite/Jonathon Young, Revisor review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
24 May 20 – 24 Jun 20, 22:00 Dur.: 1 hour 30 mins. Available on iPlayer afterwards
|Website||Click here to book|