Kidd Pivot’s Revisor – Adapting a Russian farce on power and corruption

A low-level clerk arrives at a remote government complex where all the officials mistake him as a high-ranking inspector. Since they all have secrets that they fear being exposed, they do everything they can to appease him.

This is the plot of Revisor – Government Inspector in Russian – Nikolai Gogol’s story of mistaken identity that writer Jonathan Young, choreographer Crystal Pite have adapted as an exciting dance theatre performance.

Well received by the audience since its premiere in 2019, and performed by Pite’s company Kidd Pivot, Revisor, will return to the Vancouver Playhouse from Mar. 30 to Apr. 2 2022.

The narrative

Gogol’s original play, published in 1836, satirizes human stupidity, blind respect to power, and the extensive political corruption of Imperial Russia. The new work seems to be a timely modern echo with Russia in the spotlight again, as it explores the themes of power and corruption through comedy and irony.

Renée Sigouin, Cindy Salgado, Rena Narumi, Tiffany Tregarthen,Matthew Peacock, Jermaine Spivey, David Raymond, and Doug Letheren. | Photo by Michael Slobodian

“What is interesting is that Gogol was a Ukrainian who made a name for himself as a Russian writer. What he brought to the Russian literary scene was Ukrainian folklore. He in a way helped define a sense of what it is to be Ukrainian, and his works helped shape what the Russian literature was going to become,” says Young.

On a deeper level, Young says one of the themes that the story really digs into is the paradox that involvement in the very things being satirized and laughed at reveals people’s inability to transcend these corrupt systems which seem outdated and ridiculous.

A five-act dance play

Young started adapting Revisor in 2017, and it took him and Pite at least a year to align the texts and the choreography. “How to combine those things so that they serve one another. Even if they seem to be in conflict at times. My job as the writer is to provide context for those difficult sections for the audience,” he says.

He says the main innovation that they brought to Gogol’s play is that the inspector is already embedded inside this government complex whereas in the original narrative the real inspector arrives at the very end.

Doug Letheren. | Photo by Michael Slobodian

“The inspector is not on stage but is present as a voice. Essentially, it’s a radio drama. We recorded the voices of the cast of actors,” Young explains. “When the inspector delivers a record of what we have just seen, that’s when the play kind of cracks open and we enter a realm of the abstract. It allows Crystal’s choreography to come to the surface and it becomes much more of an imagistic abstract world where the figures are stripped of character. They become more mysterious and essential human beings that go deeper than the level of the farce”.

These abstract physical expressions also provide the audience an opportunity to enjoy some contemporary dance, says Young, and after that act, the narrative seals back up to the end.

Moulded into the format of a dance play, the project is the third collaboration between Young and Pite. Their first co-creation Betroffenheit, was internationally acclaimed and won the Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production in 2017.

“In Betroffenheit. We worked with the genre of farce. We were interested in going further into something that dealt with power struggles and politics. Even though it was a comic form it often dealt with the dark undercurrents of human nature,” explains Young, “What possibilities are there inside that dramatic structure for abstraction and pure movement? That’s always a conversation between us. How do we allow that to come out of the story while still propelling the narrative?”

Young co-founded the Electric Theatre Company with three other people in the mid-90s after he got out of theatre school, and he is still running it after nearly three decades. Outside of theatre-making, he is also an accomplished stage and TV actor.

Speaking of what inspires him to create, he is philosophical and pensive.

“I have always been fascinated by what theatre is and what dance is and how they operate as art forms. What do they do to us as human beings? Why do we have such an appetite for stories? So, I tend to investigate, and it becomes the subject,” says Young. “Also human nature and the big unanswerable questions of what it is to be human. What are we? What does it mean to be alive? Nothingness, for example, that occupies me.”

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