ENCOUNTER by Simon McBurney and Complicite was the water into which I dipped my first toe of 2015.
When Dominic Cavendish interviewed McBurney for The Telegraph – with ten days to go – he claimed the show wasn’t finished. He claimed it was waking him up at 4am and the stage manager was clamouring for a script.
Complicite, Théatre de Complicite, is about collaboration, but it defies my understanding that a show of the complexity I saw performed last night was so unfinished ten days ago, it was wakening the creator and performer up. What did he mean?
Did he mean one or two loose ends needed tying? Did he mean he’d read the book, Amazon Beaming, some time ago and a few ideas were floating about? Clearly, there’s room for misunderstanding about what ‘finished’ means.
The evening begins with McBurney talking the audience into their individual headphones – ‘This is a conference centre, not a theatre.’ he says with a laugh. Then he wanders around his stage and introduces us to a head on a stand. The technicalities will be familiar to many, but binaural technology was new to me. So when he introduced us to noise in our left ear and noise in our right ear and later when there were mosquitoes buzzing around the back of my neck, I was hugely impressed. I kept my eyes closed for much of the two hours and missed the occasional visual joke, but the effect was all-encompassing.
Without the nausea of 3-D cinema, the effect is so realistic I was just stopping myself slapping the ants and running from the rising flood-water. It’s wonderful story-telling.
Amazon Beaming is a 1991 book by Romanian author Petru Popescu. It recounts the remarkable period American photographer Loren McIntyre spent, 20 years before, in the captivity of an Amazon tribe. This is what McBurney based Encounter on.
In addition, he personalizes the creation of the story and the telling of the story by introducing his sleepless daughter and her pointed questions. The child’s voice punctuates the arc of the main plot as the artist creating the work tries to create while baby-sitting, and introduces some levity into the profound nature of Loren McIntyre’s experience.
Two hours on and McBurney has earned a standing ovation. It all looked finished to me. He took time to commend his technical crew and I’d second that. Perfect cues, great stage-effects (I was looking sometimes) and sympathetic or dramatic lighting added hugely to the production. Highly recommended.
Run continues various dates till Sat 22nd 7.30pm and 4 matinées. Performance has no interval. Edinburgh International Conference Centre. Morrison Street.