The Encounter review, Barbican 2018 ★★★★★
In a fusion of noise and narrative, innovative British theatre company Complicite combine traditional story-telling with cutting-edge technology in their latest five-star show The Encounter.
With eerily evocative audio and simple staging the show pushes the boundaries of conventional theatrical performance. Traditionalists, beware: The Encounter is bold stuff, but, it's a must-see for those that like their theatre fresh and challenging.
Everyone in the audience is given a pair of headphones and Complicite founder and solo performer Simon McBurney explains the effects of binaural technology (i.e. the mechanics of hearing). It's simple enough: sound is delivered to each ear. The immersive impact is astonishing. McBurney pants into the mic in the vast auditorium. The sound of his breath in your right ear is so vivid you can feel the heat of the exhalations. The absolute intimacy of the sounds made us shiver. When a voice suddenly switches to the left ear, you turn instinctively, even though you know rationally it's a just a trick of the projection.
The extraordinary story-telling technique is matched by a truly astounding story.
Rustling rolls of film become rainforest foliage, single sounds play out on a loop, mosquitoes buzz around your head and the whole sonic landscape transports you to the depths of the Amazon.
Based on the true experience of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre, as recorded in Petru Popescu's novel Amazon Beaming, the piece describes McIntyre's journey through the Brazilian jungle. He was there to photograph the Mayoruna tribe, but, after losing his way, he had no choice but to live among the tribe. As what was supposed to be a brief encounter becomes a cultural immersion, McIntyre's journey explores the limits of communication.
Simon McBurney brings the tale to life on stage with a bravura one-man performance punctuated by shifting soundscapes. Gradually the human fascination of McIntyre's interaction with the tribe and immersion in the jungle gives way to a mind-opening array of spiritual significance, plumbing the very depths of civilisation. Voices overlap, condensing past and present in a profound exploration of the nature of time. Each reiteration becomes mindbogglingly intense, recorded interruptions from McBurney's young daughter ('Daddy, who are you talking to?') counteract the distance of the story with familiar comic relief.
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