‘The Encounter’ review

Theatre, Experimental
5 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
(2user reviews)

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Simon McBurney and Complicite shred the fabric of time and space with this awesome new show

Interview: Simon McBurney on ‘The Encounter’

‘The Encounter’ begins with performer/creator Simon McBurney telling us that right now he should be at home telling his daughter a bedtime story. He’s not, of course. He’s here on the stage of the Barbican Theatre, surrounded by a complicated setup of mics and sound equipment ready to perform Complicité’s critically acclaimed show, returning after a storming run in 2016. His daughter’s loss is our gain: we’re about to experience what’s probably the best bedtime story ever. One that encompasses time travel, mind-reading and an expedition deep into the Amazon.

The first thing you need to know about ‘The Encounter’ is that it uses binaural (that’s both ears) technology via headphones hooked up to each seat. If you’ve not experienced the effect before, it’s quite a thing. An aeroplane goes overhead and you can hear the roar move across the space above you. And when someone whispers in your ear it’s like they’re standing a few centimetres away. In a world where we’re constantly meant to be wowed by new tech this is, perhaps surprisingly, a deeply satisfying experience. 
Thankfully this isn’t a show that’s too preoccupied with the technology it’s using. It’s just a tool –  flawlessly executed by a phenomenal creative team – that enables a simply gorgeous piece of storytelling. McBurney does that thing that only brilliant writers manager to master. He brings together multiple, disparate story threads and intertwines them into a rich, coherent whole.
You don’t always know how you got from A to B in this story but it makes complete sense in the moment. And that’s all very apt as ‘The Encounter’ is about being lost in the Amazon. It’s a story about 1960s American photographer and explorer Loren McIntyre and his remarkable expedition to photograph the Mayoruna people. It’s also about being lost in time – and how that very concept is a deceptive cultural one (any more on this and I’d be spoiling it for you). And finally, it’s about being lost in a story. McBurney reflects on the nature of storytelling throughout. Sometimes that kind of self-reflexiveness can feel a bit pretentious, tedious. Not here. His own story adds a contemporary, relatable hook. 
But all this talk of themes and ideas perhaps belies what is a deeply absorbing and immediate experience. This is the sort of storytelling that roots you to the spot and fills you with childlike enthrallment. I, for one, just didn’t want it to stop. 

By: Gail Tolley



Users say (2)

5 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

5 / 5

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2 people listening

A great one man show from a great storyteller! Complicite always impress with their productions and this one is no exception. Simon McBurney is hosting a 2 hour show through the latest audio technology on stage. The audience wears earphones and travels to Amazon to experience life over there. A great multi-leveled play. Drawback; Only one-priced expensive tickets are offered on a quite low-costed production.


FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have a certain weakness for Complicite. When I found out they are coming to The Barbican in February 2016, I didn't even bother to read about the play they are staging. I jut booked two tickets. And you know what? Simon McBurney and his crew of tech and sound magicians didn't disappoint.

He began the play before the doors were even closed and by commenting on the day and who his daughter didn't believe that he was working on a Sunday. Then he took some photos of the audience. I waved. He took more photos and showed us the content of his photos - which were mainly populated by his children and he casually talked us through how technology changed the way we see time...

because that's basically what the play was about. It was about the metaphysics of time and Simon mcBurney not just manage to charm us by forgetting time but he also drew us into how the headphones that we got at our seats are used not just as a tool of the play but as a portal to another level or dimension of theatre. And trust me, it was pure genius.

That story, based on Petru Popescu's new book, Amazon Beaming, traces the journey of the National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre into the Brazilian Amazon in 1969. He was there to shoot the Mayoruna tribe, but when he found them and began to follow them, he failed to mark his tracks back to his plane. Lost in the rainforest, he was forced to live among the tribe, though they shared no language.

that's when he became the amazon and the amazon became him...

The story was beautifully written.  The tribal leader has warts on his legs “like barnacles” and wears a “diadem of white egret feathers”. Vivid with red-cheeked men and dancing boys, jaguars and maggots, fires and floods and rituals with hallucinogenic toads. 

And McIntyre never found out what it meant to destroy everything, everything that is of utility to *return*.

What and how does one *return*?

For all its sound wizardry (overseen by Gareth Fry with Pete Malkin), this is also rather lo-tech, old-fashioned storytelling, where a bottle of water makes the sound of a Cessna landing on the river, a packet of Walker crisps stands in for a crackling fire and two brooms evoke the feeling of being trapped in a thorn bush. It's a bedtime tale, with added Foley effects. 

McBurney dances and whirls around the stage, swapping voice from narrator to McIntyre to tribesman like a shaman. He is extraordinary. His moves from narrator to McIntyre to tribesman was effortless, magical and he became tender, really tender when he was Daddy... talking to his little daughter who had problems sleeping.

Aided by layers and layers of sound effects and yet intimate. So intimate that when McBurney whispers on the ear of the mannequin onstage, you can feel his breathing at the back of your neck. Forgetting that you're at the Barbican but instead are in the humid, hallucinogenic depths of the Amazon jungle.

It's genius that he managed to do all this by just using his voice and aided by a few microphones. He teased you about using recordings earlier - bringing you into the process of the storytelling which lend more into the spellbinding quality of the play.

The bad news is The Encounter is sold out. The great news is, you can still get day tickets.

I am not going to tell you more about the play. JUST GO WATCH IT ALREADY.

It's genius. And the next time, Complicite decides to stage another play, book the day it's open for reservation! 

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