Those who remember radio days when studios featured dramas with actors doing different voices and others providing sound effects in inventive ways may find Simon McBurney’s more sophisticated one-man show reminiscent of that radio era. However, those old shows were generally a half hour or an hour long. McBurney holds us in his power when we put on the earphones provided and we are inundated with his complicated adventure tale with his voice in various ranges and locations, coupled with a mountain of sound effects through clever technology. The show is one big aural onslaught that, as intriguing as it can be, goes on so long (nearly two hours without an intermission) as to leave one in a state of mental exhaustion.
The show has a sneaky start. McBurney, who seems to be a technician fussing with various props, comes on stage unassumingly, and only gradually do we realize that he is the star and the show has been under way. The event is a Complicitite production conceived and directed by McBurney, co-conceived by Kirsty Housley and inspired by Petru Popescu’s book “Amazon Beaming,” which deals with American journalist Loren McIntyre’s adventures in the Amazon, including interaction with an Amazon tribe. Much credit is due sound designers Gareth Fry and Peter Malkin.
This is heady stuff to pound into our ears as McBurney assumes the role of McIntyre, as well as that of a narrator and other characters. Time frames are mixed. At one moment McBurney is telling bedtime stories to his young daughter. At another, the versatile actor is dealing with wild animals. We always see him on stage, moving about energetically—he must be thoroughly exhausted after every performance. We never know whether his voice is recorded, or whether he is actually speaking, as his lips keep moving.
His voice frequently changes in tone, and sometimes he is whispering into one of our ears, or even blowing into it on another occasion. The sound effects are stupendous, whether coming to us full force or rippling delicately. McBurney puts on one admirable, original performance revealing anew the talent that has earned him an international reputation. But he is far from alone as he seems on stage. Check the program to see the impressive array of voices that have gone into the presentation.
No question about it—this is Broadway’s unique show at the moment. Whether you will leave with great admiration for McBurney and the audio magic being performed, or leave with a headache, or perhaps both, depends upon your outlook and endurance capacity. But this sure is a very different experience from customary theatergoing. At the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed October 6, 2016.