A story, Simon Mcburney explains, as the lights of the theatre come up and the lights of the Barbican Centre go down, can be true or can be false; can have factual evidence or can require no evidence at all but nonetheless it is still a story; whether or not you choose to believe it is up to you!
Mcburney and his team create a relatable dialect between a 2018 audience with cultural technological addictions and a completely contrasting community of descendants from the Mayoruna people. Within this conversation he challenges our values and priorities posing questions such as where did it all begin and why do we care so much about dying?
Through the use of binaural audio microphones and each individual audience member wearing a set of headphones, Mcburney whispers in your ear as if you were in a static air-tight car with Mcburney sat on each seat behind, beside and in front of you sharing the sounds and events of the story. He leads you through a huge variety of heart beats and pulse changes with not a single pre-conception of where the story might go next!
Mcburney’s versatility is very well executed as he clearly distinguished the character of American photographer and Geographer Loren Mcintyre who got lost in Brazil in 1969 and his own narrative resonance. In between these two storytelling speech qualities Mcburney creates the community of animals one might find in the Amazon; the most impressive being an aggressive Jaguar! Throughout the journey we are constantly being sucked back into 2018 from 2003 (when Petru Popescu met the Mayoruna people) by the voice of Mcburney’s daughter who cannot sleep at night and “wanting Daddy to read another story” or “make the sounds of the animals again” often coming from his mobile phone challenging us with the question of how healthy is the use of technology in this harmful society destroying the earth and perfectly harmless nature which the South African tribes care for!
The subtleties of his performance are psychologically endearing as Mcburney recreates the experience of a burning village after, having a conversation with his daughter trying to convince her to sleep and sharing a midnight snack, he squeezes a pack of hula hoops a few times and we are transported back into the heart of the Amazon and eager to learn more about what we know so little of!
At first I had some doubts at the message Mcburney is trying to effect his audiences with as he began by addressing the modern day addiction to excessive photographing and living life through a lens rather than experiencing the worlds as it is. However, Mcburney then went on to produce a show with such reliance on technology and modern concepts that I fear he lost some traditional necessities that theatre requires to be at its most effective and life changing! For example, you cannot say it was live theatre as a large percentage of it was pre recorded and just a slight of hand, the ability for an actor to share his story through vocal detail was lost completely as no skill was required vocally as it was so highly constructed technically that his voice was being transferred from multiple microphones into our ears. And lastly, I felt at times quite disengaged as the use of projections and bursts of lighting distracted from the subtle intelligent choices made by Mcburney and co-director Kirsty Housley such as the simple use of fingers to encourage our imagination to envision a camera.
Having said that the technology overload was detrimental to theatre as an art form, Mcburney, nevertheless, did not fail to engage my imagination and I am highly impressed with the ability to utilise his skills to recreate a feeling of what it might be like in the Amazon for those of us that might never have the chance to go see for ourselves! I just wish that he hadn’t partially jeopardised the experience with unnecessary modern technology!
The Encounter is playing The Barbican until 5th May 2018. For more information and tickets, see https://tickets.barbican.org.uk/eticketing/performancelist.asp?shoID=42825