The Encounter
Complicité Theatre Company
Friday 15th - Friday 22nd May 2020

Back in 2016, having been inspired by Petru Popescu’s book Amazing Beaming, Complicité performer and director Simon McBurney brought to the stage a unique, binaural experience entitled The Encounter, a production in which the audience were advised to wear headphones to produce the full effect of audibly having McBurney talk between the left and right hand side of your brain, though a binaural headpiece which was situated in the middle of a somewhat empty stage, with just a few materials scattered round such as plastic bottles, and huge pile of mylar, usually found in VHS tapes, dominating the playing space.

Throughout The Encounter, which centres around the time of 1969, when National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre found himself lost in Brazil, amongst the remote village of the Javari Valley, McBurney sets out on a journey that leaves us with our eyes closed as we venture into the forest and become encountered with this indigenous tribe; listening from the comfort of my own home, throughout the early stages of the production, I did find myself completely immersed with the foliage and the novelty of such a performance, on of the only streams of late that has really captured me due to its concept, but sadly overtime I found this novelty wore completely thin, with the story at time losing a lot of it’s pacing.

It should be noted at this point that McBurney has filmed an introduction to this piece during lockdown in this present time, and does state that this recording was during the early process of a rather varied and ever-changing time for the production, so I do feel as though as the years went on with the production, these snags were probably flattened out, though as the only archived footage of the show itself, this is the only thing we have to go off.

The other issue that arises from this production as a whole is that even though audibly it is mesmerising at times, and McBurney absolutely credits the backstage team following the climax of the piece, some of the design element is completely lost if you have your eyes closed throughout the whole piece; there were moments were Paul Anderson’s lighting brought a complete atmospheric attention to the forest setting, with a pulsing green backdrop illuminating the stage at certain points, and so unless you sneaked a peak during the actual performance, this would be lost to the audience watching at home.

Furthermore, whilst there are some nice interludes where McBurney’s real life daughter disturbs him, in pre-recorded segments that force you to jump back into the real world, it does actually make trying to resume the story of the tribes more difficult; there is almost a sense of relief that those watching at home have that comfort to just lie down and listen to the story, which is more like a retelling rather than a performance, and not otherwise sat within a chair at a theatre with the visual aspect not being the main focus, feeling that you have maybe wasted the journey for something you could have easily done through the live stream, which was originally broadcasted back in 2016.

Overall, The Encounter absolutely hinges on the binaural aspect being the forefront in telling such an unworldly experience, but actually with such a drastic running time of over two hours, this novelty experience actually wears thin quite quickly, with no real sense of heightening the performance. 


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