Revisor review – astonishing take on Gogol demands to be seen again

Sadler’s Wells, London
Choreographer Crystal Pite and theatre-maker Jonathon Young combine their worlds for a riveting piece

Actors speak, dancers move. In Revisor, choreographer Crystal Pite and theatre-maker Jonathon Young once again sync their worlds together. As with the searing Betroffenheit and wire-taut The Statement, Revisor finds Pite’s phenomenal dancers performing a kind of physical lip-syncing to scripted voiceovers by Young’s actors. The result is astonishing not for its imitation, but for its exactitude: the rhythms and intonations of speech drive every gesture, stance and step. Choreographically, it’s riveting, both for the inventive articulation of individual bodies and for the fine-tuned dynamics of the ensemble, as responsive as conversation itself.

Jermaine Maurice Spivey and Doug Letheren.
Undertow of unease ... Jermaine Maurice Spivey and Doug Letheren. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

Young’s text derives from Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 play The Government Inspector (Revizor in Russian), a tale of petty bureaucracy, mistaken identity, mixed motives and revolving doors; in short, a farce. With their hunches, strides, flinches and shrugs, the dancers give the script an exaggerated, silent-film feel: broad humour in fine form. Yet there’s an undertow of unease. Body and voice (and indeed sound and lighting) may be super-synced, but they’re also uncannily dissociated.

In different ways, Betroffenheit and The Statement prised open this very fissure. Revisor does, too. Just as the action seems on the point of revelation, the music turns to a throb, the stage is cleared of its set, and the performers – now in nondescript dance clothes, not character costumes – replay the first act to a voiceover that is more choreographic than dramatic: it describes moves and figures, gives stage instructions and enumerates scenes.

Loosened from the ties of speech and script, the dancing is stretchier and less staccato, but instead of release, the mood is of unnameable anxiety, as in a dream. There’s no explanation, only description and allusion. A comedy costume reappears in the guise of a nightmare creature with claws. There are unnerving glitches, where the choreography sticks like a scratched record. If this act revisits the first, which is the real version and which the revised? When the farce returns, it is irredeemably laced with a disturbing duplicity.

Revisor may lack the punch of Betroffenheit and the singularity of The Statement, but its handling of material is every bit as virtuoso; and as with those pieces, I wanted to see it again, immediately.

• At Sadler’s Wells, London, until 5 March. Then touring internationally.


Sanjoy Roy

The GuardianTramp

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