It’s not too bold to say that The Encounter is out of this world. Simon McBurney’s one-man show is simply like nothing you’ve ever experienced. And it is a total experience – it does feel like your brain has been blown into space and our perception of the world has been forced inside out. The founder of hyped avant-garde theatre company Complicite has, with his hyper-intelligent piece of storytelling and technological deception, not only transported us to the depths of the Amazon but also propelled us into questioning what reality really is.
The Encounter is loosely based on Amazon Beaming, a book by Petru Popescu describing American photojournalist Loren McIntyre’s strange and fantastical experience in the Amazon. Stranded amongst an isolated Mayoruna tribe, Loren discovers the destruction of our disconnection to nature. As the forest almost breathes through him and the lines between reality and imagination blurs, we are asked to question if our perception of time and truth is as fixed as we claim it to be. The tribe could apparently communicate with their minds; as they strive to cleanse themselves from destructiveness of the modern civilisation, Loren is put through a ritual to end the world.
As a sort of monologue, The Encounter is shaped by Simon McBurney’s incredible ear for storytelling and an exciting and innovative use of sound effects. The audience all wear headphones throughout, allowing McBurney to travel inside our heads and manipulate our brains, stimulating the imagination in such a fashion that we believe we are actually there. Using a hi-tech mask microphone on stage, and various sound recordings and objects, McBurney layers the soundscape throughout, making us forget we are staring at a near-bare stage and a man making various voices in dim theatre-light. Paul Anderson’s lighting and Will Duke’s projection underscore the story beautifully. The high flair of the technical team, married with McBurney’s brilliance, drives us into a trippy world of extraordinary stimulation, turning the brain upside down.
Starting out as a casual chat, the night at the Barbican soon engulfs us not only in a remarkable story and idea of reality, but also an incredible piece of theatre. The final parable makes you weep at the recognition that man’s curiosity, and his need to define himself individually, is what destroys the connectedness and harmony of our world. It’s impossible to leave this performance unchanged.
The Encounter is not just an incredible piece of storytelling, but a true questioning of our existence and society’s perceptions of the world. It leaves you breathless, as if eerily connected to what it really means to feel alive and human. If theatre can give you something near an out-of-body experience, this is it. Simply mind-blowing in every sense.
The Encounter is playing at the Barbican until 6 March. For more information and tickets, see the Barbican website. Photo: Robbie Jack