By Isabella Fraser
The Encounter is unlike any other production you will see. A one-man show – so far, so Edinburgh – yet this is much more than one man and his monologue. A set with many, many bottles of water, an odd head on a stand (this turns out to be a binaural microphone), regular mikes and stands, a table with random items, a box full of old video tape, speakers and a lot of blank stage – all this adds up to the arena in which Complicite’s production, conceived and performed by Simon McBurney, weaves the magic of real life and storytelling in a visceral, dreamlike way. This production is based on a book called Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu, about a photographer, Loren McIntyre, a real life explorer who had disappeared in the jungle, but ended up exploring his life.
With the use of headphones connected to the binaural microphone, the audience can hear everything McBurney and his team produces whether it be live or recorded, the sound being sent to both ears. This has the effect of making it seem McBurney is all around, right behind you, even though the logical interpretation would be that he is in front, as he is standing at the front of the stage. Just like a conscience, the speaker of the words is the outsider within the Jungle. Recording machines take snippets of the live feed and play it back during the scene that unfolds. Water bottles surround the action and will play many parts, as the image of water reflects on the back wall of the space..
McBurney, uses many different forms of technology to tell the story. From the sound of his breathing to create the sounds of a jungle with his recording device, to the water bottles, to the modern phone and speaker collection, to running round in large circles, to exquisite backdrops created by reflections and lighting effects on a strange rippled walled, to the simple telling of the story. Time flies as sound and visual effects blend so that all the audience can do is react and respond. Light and sound mix with the changing weather of the story, with the pure artistry of this demonstrated by McBurney’s journey, physically and emotionally.
Two hours vanish in the ether with this production, much like the journey McIntyre has taken, although the end is ambiguous: you do not know if he has survived or not. Nonetheless there is a metaphor to be had about memory and its connection to what we see, hear, and fear when we look inside ourselves. There is very little time left to book, but if you can get the opportunity, do so. You will not regret it, although you may need to mull it over for some time to come.
The Encounter runs until 23 August at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. Various times. Running time is approximately 2 hours.