The Encounter by Complicite at The Barbican

In 1969 an intrepid National Geographic photographer, Loren McIntyre, ventured deep into the Brazilian rainforest in search of the elusive Mayoruna people. Finding the tribe he gets totally lost and only survives by following them – an indigenous people with a vastly different way of life, belief system and understanding of time. This ‘encounter’ would have a profound impact on him for the rest of his life.

Flash forward over 40 years and master storyteller Simon McBurney and his company Complicite have created a startling piece of audio storytelling. Even though you simply watch Simon tell the story, on a bare stage with the help of some basic props and mics, it feels as though you can actually see the Amazon and all its animals and people in the story. This is thanks to the incredible sound and audio setup combined with his voice coming directly into your head through individual headphones to transport us from the Barbican into the heart of the Amazon.

He weaves parts of his own life into the narrative about Loren McIntyre which, amongst other things, explores time. In advanced societies we count time and order our lives by it, whilst for the peoples of the Amazon, their main purpose is survival in a world where international companies are now destroying the forest. Whether they hunt at day or night is irrelevant as long as they survive. Furthermore there were suggestions of an ‘old language’, a form of telepathic communication. This was all within Loren’s tale, but it was the way Simon created the entire landscape, rocking water bottles to create the sound of a sea boat, floating on the Amazon river, whacking sticks about to create the sound of a tribe building their homes or scrunching a crisp packet to create the sound of a crackling fire that brought everything to life in front of us.

It is very rare in theatre that a really important story is told in such a fantastic way. This is the true essence of great theatre and is exactly what Complicite have created here with The Encounter. A momentous production, questioning all the values that we hold dear, possession, communication, consciousness and time. A mass ritualistic burning of all of their possessions in contrast to the western pursuit of material wealth signified a beginning for the Mayoruna and had huge cultural and spiritual importance. Theirs is a shared consciousness understanding the connection between all living things. For them, there are no barriers between individual minds. Access to the consciousness of the other was a real phenomenon.

Tales of first encounter still occur in our world, although it will not be long before there are none. The saddest thing, as Simon himself explains, is that these first encounters are always to the advantage of the scientist or explorers who gain much in knowledge or understanding, whilst for the indigenous people it is always a moment of extreme loss.

Highlight of the show – Too many to choose from, although the simple act of starting the story with a stick as the plane’s yoke and ending with the same stick as the arrow that gets snapped, brought this story full circle.

WIGS 5/5

You can catch a live streaming of this production on Complicite’s YouTube account on 1st March.

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