Tag Archives: Complicite

“The Encounter” from The Barbican

There are tricks from the start in this show from director and performer Simon McBurney and his renowned theatre company Complicité. A special introduction to the live broadcast reminds us that this is an event from four years ago. McBurney addresses us now, “confined at home”, and is careful to point out we’re missing how theatre evolves. The point isn’t just a painful reminder, it addresses the show’s key theme of time, indicating we’re dealing with a keen intellect who has plenty to say.

Continuing to be transparent with the trickery of the technology he uses forms a long introduction on stage as well. McBurney takes us through the effects that can be achieved as his audience, online and in the theatre, wear headphones. Interesting and funny; showing us what he can do to fool our brains doesn’t make the sound effects less effective. It endears him to the audience as a character and aids that all important complicity – the “common imagination” which powers theatre… and so much more.

The Encounter

Based on Loren McIntyre’s 1969 travels to an isolated tribe in the Amazon, all the playing with reality has a point. It takes us quickly to questions of how communities create stories that shape us and argues that time and communication might be very different from what we in the west are used to. The suggestion of telepathy comes through ceremony and drug use within a story containing considerable danger and excitement as well as plenty to think about.

The Encounter is fascinating, although it doesn’t wear its learning lightly. When it comes to McBurney’s own story telling it might be better, simpler. That sounds odd when we just have one man on a stage – although McBurney is keen to acknowledge his sound operators and there’s also some impressive lighting (from Paul Anderson). And don’t be fooled into thinking it is all about sound, this is a physical tour de force with plenty of running around and explosions of rage. The caveats are minor: overlapping dialogue, while making a point about the “cacophony” of communication, hinders just that. And relating the story to McBurney’s own life, with the voice of his daughter frequently interrupting, is driven by theory rather than drama. Nonetheless, both ideas and execution are mind expanding and the show rightly acclaimed.

Available until 25 May 2020

To support visit www.complicite.org

“The Master and Margarita” at the Barbican

Mikhail Bulagakov’s classic novel, The Master and Margarita, is a work known for its complexity. A satire, full of politics and philosophy, it is marked by what has come to be known as magical realism. With the action moving speedily between the trial of Christ and Stalin’s Moscow, and a cast including the devil and his cat, it’s easy to see why many would regard it as unstageable. But Simon McBurney, and his theatre company Complicite, love a challenge and this production shows that, as they approach their 30th anniversary, they are at the top of their game: drawing out the theatricality in the book, enjoying the farce, and injecting drama into the fantasy elements of the story.

Marked by a level of accomplishment that is truly breathtaking the action is presented with invention and wit. The set, designed by Es Devlin, is a facade of houses onto which some of the finest video work I’ve seen on stage is screened. Not content with this, McBurney uses the floor of the stage, filming live and projecting onto the walls; it’s appropriately disorientating and makes the production seem bigger than the theatre itself. The lighting from Paul Anderson is an essential part of the show, used with intelligence to great effect.

But no matter how stunning the show looks it would be just a bag of tricks without the acting that accompanies it. The text, devised by McBurney with Edward Kemp and the company, moves at a great pace, with short scenes that require instant emotions in surreal circumstances. Tim McMullan is so powerful as Pontius Pilate he seems to anchor the whole show and, taking the title role of The Master, Paul Rhys gives a stunning performance. Susan Lynch, who plays Margarita, shows great bravery (not least since she spends a good deal of the play naked) with the emotional rawness she brings to the part. Lynch and the company manage to make the story of The Master and Margarita, and the idea that is should appear on stage, believable.

Until 19 January 2013


Photo by Bohumil Kostohryz

Written 21 December 2012 for The London Magazine