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The Encounter (Edinburgh International Conference Centre)

Directed and performed by Simon McBurney, Complicite's new production traces a lost photographer's journey into the depths of the Amazon rainforest

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Simon McBurney in The Encounter. 'This extraordinary show is a sonic blast and a half'
© Robbie Jack

The theatre of the one-man show is usually a stand-up, or a low key confessional, or a comic rant. Several great performers - Spalding Gray, Eric Bogosian, Ken Campbell, Robert Lepage - have raised the genre to mind-expanding new heights.

And now they are joined by Simon McBurney of Complicite; in a brilliant programming coup, McBurney plays back to back with Lepage's latest piece, 887, in this same venue later this week.

This extraordinary show is a sonic blast and a half, an epic journey to the dangerous heart of the Amazonian jungle from a writer's study in London where an importunate child pleads for her father's attention. McBurney humours the child, as he humours late-comers to the theatre.

For with his technical team, he has created a radio-stereophonic play in a live setting which we absorb through our personal headsets while also watching McBurney who is himself reading the script on an autocue at the back of the huge auditorium. Sometimes you catch yourself turning around in your seat, so convincing is the wrap-around aural babble of voices, insects, crackling fire, rushing rivers.

The literary source is a Romanian screenwriter's account of a photographer, Loren McIntyre, who, in 1969, gets lost in the Javari Valley on the border between Brazil and Peru. McBurney splits his identity with that of McIntyre as he becomes ever more enmeshed in danger, anthropological research and political theory about the decimation of the tribe he encounters.

Some of this becomes over-convoluted and hard to follow, but the broad sweep of it is irresistible. It's like a one-man version of Peter Brook's theatricalisation of Colin Turnbull's book about the lost tribe of The Iks, but at the opposite end of the purity scale, ie, McBurney gives us the works.

The Encounter is also a meditation on paternity, creativity and the merely providential in both artistic and "real" life. It's a plea for a shared humanity but not a soppy one, and some of the stories, and a lot of the detail, are both mind-boggling and hair-raising. A real festival triumph.

The Encounter runs at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre until 23 August.

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