A new take on an old story: Kidd Pivot in Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young’s Revisor

National Theater, Taipei
May 12, 2023

Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young’s Revisor for Kidd Pivot, a contemporary revision of Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 play known in the English-speaking world as The Government Inspector, is, quite simply, a brilliant piece of theatre. Rather than dance where the movement is connected to the music, think of it as a play where the actors dance the words, as they do so, physically expressing their feelings; albeit with a twist in the middle.

Gogol’s play may have been set in 19th-century Russia, but remains timeless. It’s essentially a political satire about power and corruption. In brief, a group of greedy and corrupt local officials at a complex deep in the provinces get tipped off that an undercover inspector (the Revizor of the original Russian title) is in their midst to ‘inspect their operation.’ Mad with panic, they mistake a lowly bureaucrat in town to update a piece of legislation by moving a comma, for the inspector. Having initially arrested him, in an attempt to redeem their mistake, they release then bribe and curry favour with him. He in turn wastes no time in seizing the opportunity to exploit them, enjoy all the perks they offer and make some money along the way.

Kidd Pivot in Revisor
Photo Michael Slobodian

Given its theme, given the antics of what seem to be many modern politicians of all political persuasions, its contemporary relevance is plain. Revisor could be very heavy but Pite and Young’s ‘trick’ is that it can be watched, and it works brilliantly, on many levels. It is a farce. The characters are little more than caricatures. There is a fair bit of comedy and laughter. But if you want political commentary, that’s there too. And that’s before we get onto the sheer physicality of the cast. It is massively entertaining.

Initially, the focus in on comedy. The narrator’s words are so skilfully mouthed by the performers, it’s hard to believe they are not actually speaking them. It has an almost cartoonish feel as every line, every movement, every facial expression, is grotesquely exaggerated. Every action, every thought, the arrival of every new character seems to set off another uncontrollable chain of events. It is funny, but it’s also tension-filled, the feeling of being under surveillance reaching out across the footlights.

That cast is led by the outstanding Doug Letheren who gives a compelling performance as the Director of the Complex, the archetypal big fish in a small pond and the one with the most to lose. The title role, the one character played with a more realistic face, is taken by Gregory Lau. Jennifer Florentino is energetic and brilliantly over-the-top as the Director’s flirtatious wife. But if forced to pick a favourite, it must surely be the lithe Rakeem Hardy as the Postmaster, especially in one scene towards the end when he struggles to tell the others his discovery that the hapless Lau is not the feared inspector after all by literally stuffing the bad news back down his throat.

Doug Letheren as The Director of the Complex in Revisor
Photo Michael Slobodian

A central section sees Pite and Young deconstruct the play in an attempt to get to the real heart of the work: the human soul of the story and its characters. The costumes go as the focus turns very much to the dancers, their bodies and the movement. They become human as they swirl in waves in trademark Pite fashion. Stripped of their veneer, they become vulnerable. It is very engaging and, in a way, moving.

Pite and Young slow things down a little for that middle section but Revisor maintains a brisk tempo overall. The final resolution effectively resets the situation, ready for the next Director of the Complex.

The rest of the creative team all play their parts too. Nancy Bryant’s costumes evoke the utilitarian uniforms and dress of the former Eastern bloc. Tom Visser’s lighting adds the increasing claustrophobic feel. Jay Gower Taylor’s background of reflective glass windows suggests a world outside, but equally prevent escape to it.

Afterwards, Revisor leaves you with a distinct feeling that it will all repeat. Nothing learned. Nothing changed. In a way, it is quite depressing; a sad commentary on humanity.

But it’s also a magnificent, brilliant ninety minutes of dance theatre that goes way beyond a straight retelling of Gogol’s original. It’s real, yet unreal. A real five-star show in every respect. If it comes your way, go!