Simon McBurney's stunning jungle performance in The Encounter © Murdo MacLeod

Simon McBurney’s stunning jungle performance in The Encounter © Murdo MacLeod

Published by Time Out Switzerland on 11 September 2015

Simon McBurney’s game changing theatre

Straight from Edinburgh Festival where it was hailed as game-changing theatre, Simon McBurney’s The Encounter makes a stop at Vidy theatre in Lausanne and wraps up Geneva’s electrifying La Bâtie Festival.

To tell the story of Loren McIntyre, the American National Geographic photographer who lost his way in the Amazonian jungle in 1969, McBurney wanted the audience to sense and experience “the most complex, densely organic ecosystem in the world”.

Together with his accomplices of Complicite, the celebrated British theatre company that McBurney co-founded in 1983, an extraordinary strategy was devised: with the help of individual headsets that deliver binaural technology (3Dlike sound), we are dropped into the heat and noises of the jungle. Now, just close your eyes.

“Here I am, in the middle of your head. Allow me to come close to the seat of your consciousness, where I can tell you something very personal,” McBarney requests.

MacIntyre realizes before long that by following the elusive Amazonian Mayaruna who are fleeing the oil diggers, he is embracing the fate of a tribe that is looking to die. We are swamped by his disillusion, but buoyed by his new-found telepathic friendship with the head-chief.

For more than two hours on stage, McBurney enters into our minds and makes us forget that he is alone. Peripherals figures come and go, mosquitos fly in and out, we turn our heads to see who is speaking into our ear.

The physical experience of being lost in a jungle is powerful and overwhelming. Look out for the leeches welting your skin. Wipe the sweat pearling off your brow.

Based on the book Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu, this is story-telling transposed to the theatre with virtuosity and uncanny realism. Trained at the famed Lecoq school in Paris, Simon McBurney has a powerful presence as he leaps around the stage, making sounds from different props and engaging our disbelief.

Simon McBurney's virtuoso performance occupies entire stage © Gianmarco Bresadola

Simon McBurney’s virtuoso performance occupies entire stage © Gianmarco Bresadola

“Theatre is not about what you see on the stage, it’s all about the way the audience imagines. In the end we’re just story-tellers,” he says.

For those who may not know the name of Simon McBurney, chances are they know his voice from Harry Potter or his face from numerous films, including Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight and the recent Theory of Everything.


Michèle Laird, née Haffner, was an international arts administrator (visual arts and theatre), successively in Paris, New York and London, before moving to Switzerland and becoming an arts journalist.

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