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Edinburgh International Festival 2015

The Encounter: Complicite / Simon McBurney

Complicite / Simon McBurney

Genre: Drama, Physical Theatre

Venue: EICC


Low Down

Complicite’s latest devised production, written, directed and performed by Simon McBurney. Creative, raw and electric!


The Encounter is Complicite’s new production with Simon McBurney, inspired by the book Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu – presenting its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival 2015.

Complicite is an award winning physical theatre company that produces fascinating, devised, thought provoking ensemble shows created and directed by McBurney, also an actor who sometimes performs in them. The Encounter (a one person show) is a brilliant idea and performance supported by sound technology wizardry .

As the audience enters Simon McBurney walks around the wide stage which is strewn with plastic water bottles. Several microphone stands, a cardboard box, a desk and chair are also on stage – and a repetitive line pattern covers the huge black wall upstage. He chats to the audience casually saying he is inspired by telling stories to his children – and how stories get inside our heads.

Intense and articulate, wearing a khaki shirt, cap and jeans, McBurney tells us to put our headsets on or we won’t be able to hear the play. However, the Sennheiser headsets we wear – and an onstage mask on a stand acting as a sensitive microphone – are just the start of the unusual and magical journey. Playing with sounds and accents sitting or moving about the stage, McBurney talks and the sound is extraordinary – as if he is sitting very close and whispering in our left ear and then the right ear. This is clever sound magic!

Rehearsing and developing this piece he worked long hours at home and his young daughter interrupts his work several times. Her presence asking for something to eat and a story, (recorded by chance during his rehearsals) are part of the show when her voice is played as if she’s in the next room. It’s authentic and human.

McBurney interacts with the masked head – a binaural conduit for the stunning sound quality – yet it becomes its own character. In a space of his own creation, McBurney swigs water, makes sound effects with it such as waves or rain – his voice is now in our heads and he wants to”‘pull the story out of our subconscious.” In fact we are being taken on a journey into the Amazon deeper than we expect to go as McBurney narrates then becomes characters within the story.

McBurney is his own foley artist and taps various foot pedals to sample sounds that he makes onstage, recording clips effortlessly, repeating them to make a cacophony of voices in our head, sound effects or rhythmic sounds that he moves to freely. Timing and coordination of these elements are impeccable.

At this point we are in deeper than a radio play and going for the full immersion with McBurney into the jungle to meet the Mayoruna tribe – ‘close your eyes, it’s all like a film in your head’ he says. It’s so true. His commitment to this story and how he weaves the Mayorunan people and American photographer, Loren McIntyre’s encounter with them is nothing short of masterful!

McBurney’s magnetic characterizations and intense raw emotional dynamism are the force of this extraordinary performance. This is an abstract two hour piece grounded in physical storytelling and narration of a poignant story dramatically told with wry humour. Not to be missed.

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