5 stars *****
Edinburgh International Conference Centre
IT’S A CLASSIC EDINBURGH occasion, this first world premiere of the Edinburgh International Festival’s 2015 theatre season. On stage at the EICC stands a man in jeans and a baseball cap whose life as an artist took some of its vital first steps here, more than 30 years ago, when Theatre de Complicite was still a young Fringe company working hard to change the face of British theatre with work that was intensely visual and physical.
Today, though, Simon McBurney of Complicite is in his Fifties, internationally recognised as one of the great theatre-makers and theatre-changers of our time. And in Petru Popescu’s book The Encounter, based on a journey in the Amazon made in the late 1960’s by American photographer Loren McIntyire, he has found a subject absolutely worthy of his huge theatrical skills, his brave, searching intelligence, and his willingness to push at the very limits of theatrical form – in this case the use of a complex, beautifully-balanced and almost inifinitely inventive stream of live and recorded sound, delivered to the audience on headphones, to tell McIntyre’s story.
For the story itself – complex, disturbing, sometimes terrifying – it’s perhaps enough to know that McIntyre became lost in the Amazonian jungle, made contact with a tribe that had had very little contact with urban civilisation, and went on a very strange and perhaps terminal journey with them.
For two hours though – alone on an almost-empty stage furnished with a desk and microphones, backed by a great, dark, rippling wall of rubber, and supported by a magnificent unseen team of sound designers and operators, lighting and video designers – McBurney holds us enthralled, as the pattern of sounds circling and moving apparently inside our heads becomes the perfect metaphor for McIntyre’s strange inner journey; and McBurney uses his magnificent voice and powerful body to take us through a story that seems to lead us towards the very source of human consciousness, and its connection with that thing – magical, mysterious, ever-shifting as we perceive it – that we still call reality.
Until 23 August
EIF p. 19