In some uncanny coincidence I posed the question ‘would you rather be deaf or blind?’ to my friend as we were getting our tickets checked. The idea of losing a sensation was almost too hard to comprehend – yet it was exactly how The (incredibly brilliant) Encounter was played out.
After only just recovering from the onslaught of the Fringe festival, I hadn’t particularly committed myself to anything in PIAF, until I received a recommendation from a close friend telling me how he was left speechless by the theatre piece. I was doubtful that a full 2-hour monologue (without an interval) could keep me, a slightly hyperactive/ undiagnosed ADD human, completely entertained, but boy was I wrong.
An empty stage with a few pieces of technical equipment and what looked like an African totem head stood in the middle of the stage. Performer Simon McBurney introduced us to this head as a binaural recording device – this meant a completely immersive 360 degree sound experience – and the result of it was the heat on your ear as he breathed on the dummy’s ear or the physical feeling that someone was standing behind you. I kept fighting the urge to look behind me to ensure myself that no one was actually there – because usually seeing is believing. For me, that was the beginning of where I lost a real grip on what was reality and fiction. As he continued to use sound technology to loop his voice, and alter his tone to convey different characters he began to create a visual environment solely with his words and sounds. He discussed the concept of time as a western man’s invention and the power and control it has, as he slipped from a performer to a character behind the third wall.
The story he told came from the perspective of Loren McIntyre, a National Geographic photographer and his discovery of the Mayoruna people, a remote tribe in the Amazon jungle. McBurney, as the narrator, takes us on the most epic journey from his London flat, through McIntyre’s eyes – a man obsessed with getting the perfect shot. He is continuously interrupted by his young daughter who pulls us out of the intensity of the Amazonian Jungle and into McBurney’s space of time or reality.
Without giving away too much, the play explored the ethereal world of spirituality and the native core of a human being. What it is to form attachments to material items, what it is to relinquish their grip on possessions in order to be free. The concept of dance as an innate reaction and true representation of time expresses the importance of art in every culture and the white man’s ignorance of this. Every time the real world is discussed through interviews of McIntyre’s explorations, the recordings become overlapped and chaotic. Frantic talk of corporate greed and environmental damage overwhelm the audience and in comparison the simplicity and calm of the tribe’s story is reassuring.
The Encounter was honestly one of the most eye-opening and thought provoking pieces of art that I have ever witnessed. The exploration of topics from both a micro and macro perspective make you consider everything you know about consciousness and awareness in the world. It makes you feel deflated that we so willingly resume our routine, comfortable lives but also so grateful that such a story could be shared so beautifully that remains imprinted within you.
With only 2 nights left, do yourself and your brain a favour and go and check this one out while you can. There is a reason it has sold out it’s London shows and been routinely awarded 5 stars by reputable magazines.