Complicite/Simon McBurney, Inspired by the book Amazon Beaming by Petr Popescu
Simon McBurney must be a glutton for punishment. He has now reached the stage of his career when it is no longer necessary to spend over two exhausting hours every night delivering a solo tour-de-force but he continues to do just that.
Anyone who sees The Encounter at EICC or any one of the numerous venues around the globe where it is scheduled will be delighted that Complicite’s founder is still willing to commit himself to entertain them.
The opening sees the show’s creator fiddling with props, more like a stage hand than a performer.
We are then treated to a witty introduction, enabling viewers (listeners) to get used to their compulsory headphones.
The stage itself is set out like a technical sound studio rather than performance space, enabling McBurney and his hidden cohorts to create some amazing visual and more particularly audio effects.
Somehow, one man in a workshop becomes another fleeing fire in the jungle or succumbing to strange hallucinations before our eyes, while sounds that initially emanate from his actions begin to reverberate and take on lives of their own.
The main course consists of a magical reconstruction of a trip in 1969 by American photographer Loren McIntyre into the Brazilian Amazonian rainforest in search of a tribe, the Mayoruna, which maintains cultural traditions that are unaffected by technology or modernity.
Once McIntyre sniffed an opportunity, he would not let go, at considerable risk to life and limb, as explained in the book detailing his experiences, Amazon Beaming by Petr Popescu.
Within an hour of locating his quarry, McIntyre managed to get so lost that he had no way of finding his back-up team in the depths of the forest but happily carries on regardless.
His welcome from the Mayoruna, who had long been suspicious of white men, was at best ambivalent.
However, once they realised his need, they rallied around, potentially saving his life.
McBurney then narrates a thrilling tale of an adventure that rarely lets tension slip but is always accompanied by humour, some provided by the performer’s infant daughter.
Much of the value of this show lies in the view it gives the audience into a lost culture that by now has probably changed irreparably, victim either to disease, murder or the influence of contemporary culture.
In true Complicite fashion, the medium is at least as important as the message and McBurney and co excel.
Not only is the initial concept original and impeccably delivered but surprising effects continue to appear throughout the evening.
By the end, the performer is exhausted and his guests enriched by one of the best International Festival theatre productions in recent years.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher