The Encounter at Lausanne

It’s not a Manchester show but it is one that should come to Manchester. I’m in Lausanne and London based company Complicite are performing, at Theatre Vidy, The Encounter, a play which received excellent reviews last month in Edinburgh. Theatre Vidy is a lovely space. Seating 500 and with a busy and spacious bar/cafe, it has a wonderful feel – like Contact could be. Swiss theatre but in English. Couldn’t resist.

20150909_173901But it’s not all in English. Simon McBurney appears but he could be a technician. He explains in a mix of English and French how the sound is going to work. It’s clever. He explains how the story he is going to tell will get into our brains. He explains how he will play with time and space. Except at this point we don’t know how – or whether – he will do this.

There are headphones. I need to be convinced that this is going to work.

But the effect of the headphones is spectacular. The play exists on the stage and in our heads. The soundscape is complex and all around – convincingly directional.

The story is simple but brilliantly told with almost perfect pace. A photographer, Loren McIntyre gets lost in the Amazon in 1969 and stumbles upon the indigenous Mayoruna who make him see the world in a completely new way. Unlike many plays that rely on technical wizardry, the story is beautifully told. But it is the sound that is the very clever bit. The effects through the headphones – many created on stage with unlikely props and sound repeaters – are stunning. We are in the Amazon jungle. The characters that Simon McBurney creates are all around us. His daughter enters the story as he tells it; a nice touch. Ultimately this is a play about a book about one man’s story. But where is the truth? Characters rush into our minds and just as quickly recede. What is past? What is present? Everyone creates their own reality and everyone builds their own journey. It is what each person experiences in their own head that matters.  It is a very personal experience.

Time and again I hear two things about what makes the best contemporary theatre. First, it must be something that can only work on the stage. Second, it must reveal more of the Human Condition. This play does both. It is truly exceptional.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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