Review: The Encounter

Simon McBurney in The Encounter by Complicite @ Barbican Theatre. Directed by Simon McBurney. (Opening-17-02-16) ©Tristram Kenton 02/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

Theatrical maverick Simon McBurney turns in a performance that has been stunningly filtered and processed, in service of telling a story on the theme of getting past all filters and processing. The story he tells follows Loren McIntyre, a National Geographic photographer, as he “goes native” in 1969 among the remote Mayoruna people of Brazil.

The Encounter was inspired by Amazon Beaming, a 1991 account of the trip as told to McIntyre’s friend Petru Popescu. McIntyre didn’t speak the Mayorunan language, but somehow learned to communicate with an elder of the tribe through the mysterious “beaming” in the title of Popescu’s book. Every audience member has a hi-fi headset which allows McBurney to speak more intimately to the audience, manipulate his voice electronically, and paint a picture with other recorded voices and state-of-the-art sound design.

McIntyre’s story is an interesting and sometimes gripping one, and McBurney’s writing plumbs significant philosophical depths. It doesn’t quite rise to the level of Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner’s Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe – another sharply intelligent interrogation of enduring life questions with phenomenal sound design. It doesn’t have that masterwork’s light touch or profound generosity (to be fair I do realize it’s vaguely unfair to compare McBurney’s exquisitely crafted work with one of the best theatre pieces I’ve ever seen).

The Encounter reminds me very much of performance art from the 1980s and 1990s, but with much better production values. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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