The Encounter

“The Encounter” from The Barbican

There are tricks from the start in this show from director and performer Simon McBurney and his renowned theatre company Complicité. A special introduction to the live broadcast reminds us that this is an event from four years ago. McBurney addresses us now, “confined at home”, and is careful to point out we’re missing how theatre evolves. The point isn’t just a painful reminder, it addresses the show’s key theme of time, indicating we’re dealing with a keen intellect who has plenty to say.

Continuing to be transparent with the trickery of the technology he uses forms a long introduction on stage as well. McBurney takes us through the effects that can be achieved as his audience, online and in the theatre, wear headphones. Interesting and funny; showing us what he can do to fool our brains doesn’t make the sound effects less effective. It endears him to the audience as a character and aids that all important complicity – the “common imagination” which powers theatre… and so much more.

The Encounter

Based on Loren McIntyre’s 1969 travels to an isolated tribe in the Amazon, all the playing with reality has a point. It takes us quickly to questions of how communities create stories that shape us and argues that time and communication might be very different from what we in the west are used to. The suggestion of telepathy comes through ceremony and drug use within a story containing considerable danger and excitement as well as plenty to think about.

The Encounter is fascinating, although it doesn’t wear its learning lightly. When it comes to McBurney’s own story telling it might be better, simpler. That sounds odd when we just have one man on a stage – although McBurney is keen to acknowledge his sound operators and there’s also some impressive lighting (from Paul Anderson). And don’t be fooled into thinking it is all about sound, this is a physical tour de force with plenty of running around and explosions of rage. The caveats are minor: overlapping dialogue, while making a point about the “cacophony” of communication, hinders just that. And relating the story to McBurney’s own life, with the voice of his daughter frequently interrupting, is driven by theory rather than drama. Nonetheless, both ideas and execution are mind expanding and the show rightly acclaimed.

Available until 25 May 2020

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