REVIEW: Revisor (Auckland Arts Festival)

Review by Tim George

Photography by Michael Slobodian

An Inspector Calls? 

A farce about the paranoia of totalitarianism, Revisor is a darkly comic choreographic blend of bodies, setting, light and sound. 

Created by Canadians Jonathon Young (writer) and Crystal Pite (choreography and direction), Revisor follows the titular character (performed by Gregory Lau, and voiced by Young), a minor civil servant tasked with updating a piece of legislation by moving a comma. 

Arrested and then mistaken for a visiting inspector by the prison’s overseers, the revisor becomes the centre of their politicking, corruption and personal ambition. 

Performed by the Kidd Pivot dancers (Renée Sigouin, Doug Letheren, Rakeem Hardy, Rena Narumi, Ella Rothschild, Brandon Alley, Jennifer Florentino, Brandon Alley, Gregory Lau, Jade Chong and Julian Hunt), and voiced by an offscreen cast (Scott McNeil, Alessandro Juliani, Kathleen Barr, Nicola Lipman, Gerard Plunkett, Amy Rutherford, Ryan Beil and Jonathon Young), Revisor is an exercise in the way sound and image can complement and contradict each other, to create new meaning. 

While the voice cast operate at a heightened level, the dance troupe accentuate every line reading and stage direction to the most cartoonish extreme. 

Every action, reaction and movement is accentuated into a full body experience – every revelation or slight change (a character entering a room) leads to a domino effect of gyrating limbs. 

The effect is to evoke an underlying tension, a sense of the paranoia of being under surveillance. 

This is a world where every word or gesture could be construed as a betrayal. 

Instead of hiding their thoughts and feelings, the dancers fill the space with movements while their offstage voices boom. Their exaggerated movements draw attention to the characters’ ridiculousness and pomposity. They are exposed onstage, puppets of forces outside their control. 

The only characters who retain any sense of power are the unseen narrator and the Inspector, both performed by Meg Roe. They are above the stage, omniscient witnesses to the chaos of the State’s enforcers. 

Working both in sync to the choreography but also as an emotional counterpoint, the original music and sound design (Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani and Roe) balances between the pitch-black comedy and horror of the prison staff’s self-destruction.

Nancy Bryant’s costume designs evoke the utilitarian tunics of the Eastern bloc, while Tom Visser’s lighting creates a sense of mounting claustrophobia. One of the most evocative elements of the production is Jay Gower Taylor’s reflective light concept, using a floating frame of glass windows to create a sense of a world outside the prison, or the bars preventing the occupants from escaping. 

Revisor is so riveting in its escalating frenzy and increasing abstraction, that the final dramatic resolution feels almost pat – except for the blackly comic punchline, as all the players and pieces are re-sorted, and the stage is set for a new Director of the prison.

Revisor plays Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Aotea Centre 9-11 March, 2023 as part of the Auckland Arts Festival. 

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