Inspired by Petru Popescu’s book Amazon Beaming which recounts the experiences of American photographer Loren McIntyre in the Brazilian rainforest, Complicite’s The Encounter has done packed-to-the-rafters business at Manchester’s HOME following a string of glowing reviews from Edinburgh and elsewhere.
It’s quite an experience – as much a philosophical exploration and immersive sonic experiment as it is a hallucinogenic theatrical event and acting tour-de-force.
In October 1969, McIntyre was dropped by plane into a remote area of the Amazon rainforest, hoping to make contact with the Mayoruna people for a National Geographic photo-feature. Within hours he had found a tribe but was also hopelessly lost with nothing but 400 miles of jungle around him. So his only hope of survival was to stay with the Mayoruna. He couldn’t communicate with them in any language he knew and the tribespeople themselves appeared to be experiencing a crisis, one that McIntyre simply couldn’t understand from his perspective as a Westerner for whom time is an inflexible, linear progression.
McBurney was given a copy of the book 20 years ago and began work on turning it into The Encounter, which he describes as “a solo performance made with many people, most of them creative technicians”, eight years ago.
From the very outset of this extraordinary show, he not only weaves his own creative process into the storytelling but also questions the very nature of storytelling itself. When, even, does the show start? Is it, for instance, when McBurney first appears on stage, berating latecomers like a stand-up comedian as he talks about the binaural technology of the show, like a magician revealing his tricks before he starts? Or is it when he tells the audience to don the headphones, which will feed them a complex mix of live and recorded sound as McBurney physically recounts the story?
As he/McIntyre “treks through the jungle” the audience can see that McBurney is creating the sound in their head by crunching through discarded videotape. Their eyes are telling them something different, a cumulatively disorientating effect that peaks as McIntyre himself is induced into undergoing some sort of psychedelic transformation and starts to grasp a different concept of life as the Mayoruna trek to the “beginning”, abandoning physical objects, even apparently essential ones, so as not to be trapped “still in time”.
If this sounds baffling, even nonsensical, in the cold light of print, it’s part of the magic of McBurney and his unseen accomplices’ storytelling, that it all makes complete and compelling sense as a part of such a profoundly theatrical adventure.
By Kevin Bourke
Photos by Robbie Jack
For details of the tour of The Encounter, click here