The Encounter at the Barbican
When Simon McBurney, Complicite theatre company’s artistic director and the creative force behind The Encounter, steps onstage in jeans, grey t-shirt and a baseball cap, you could be forgiven for thinking that he is just another unassuming director-type. But in this play his character, like everything else, is all part of the plan.
He tells the story of Loren McIntyre, National Geographic photojournalist in search of the Mayoruna people in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. When McIntyre becomes separated from his fellow travellers and begins to become a part of the tribe he has sought to document, questions about the created reality of the culture in which we live, ecology and the balance of our ecosystem, and the very concept of time, begin to be discussed.
But The Encounter is no ordinary theatre experience – most noticeably, the entirety of the dialogue is transmitted through headphones, given to each audience member before the play commences. The headphones receive their signal from small microphones built into a life-size, and life-weight, human head, which takes centre stage. This is McBurney’s baby: this binaural (literally “two ears”) technology means that, whilst onstage, he can talk to the audience wherever he wants us to hear his voice, into the left ear; into the right ear, behind or in front of us, making for an unnaturally immersive experience.
It also becomes clear that McBurney has left nothing onstage to chance; every prop has its part to play, and the show becomes as much about vision as sound. Onstage effects generate fires and tempests in equal measure, they create the vivid heat of the jungle and also the queer banality of everyday life back home, which frequently interrupts McIntyre’s odyssey with startling and often comic effect.
Say what you like about the SFX though (some will likely find it too modish), it is the story that makes The Encounter so special, and McBurney’s richness in telling it, both vocally and visually. The audience is fully catapulted not just into the Amazon, but into McIntyre’s mind, where the serious questions are asked, and only sometimes answered. Beautifully done, and superbly told, it is the message, not the mantra, that makes The Encounter so truly memorable.
Photo: Robbie Jack
The Encounter is on at the Barbican Theatre from 12th February until 6th March 2016, for further information or to book visit here.