Acoustic baffling. The phrase describes both the backdrop to the vast Barbican stage for this Complicite production — a pattern of foam wedges to deaden reverberation within a space — and director/performer Simon McBurney’s approach to telling this specific story. The audience don headphones and attend as McBurney performs a stage bare but for a functional table and chair, a handful of dozen mineral water bottles and the wherewithal to generate a range of soundscapes.
McBurney wears a head microphone there are a quantity of ambient mics, and a binaural set-up shaped like a human head to generate the type of stereo surround panorama we naturally perceive. One of two directional mics at the table is set to fluke McBurney’s tenor speaking voice down to become that of his protagonist, American photojournalist Loren McIntyre. McBurney uses handheld speakers and looping units to develop the sounds of the Amazon rainforest in which McIntyre made 1st make contact with in the 1970s with a Mayoruna tribe and, reduce off from make contact with with “civilisation”, accompanied them in bewilderment on their quest to return to “the beginning” . . . of time.
Recordings from different times — interviews with Petru Popescu (of whose book Amazon Beaming this is an adaptation) and the mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, domestic conversations with McBurney’s young daughter — blend in our ears with the reside performance. For this piece not only retells McIntyre’s story about time, but is itself about storytelling and time, and also about voices. The multi-vocal storytelling of McBurney’s Berlin production of Stefan Zweig’s Beware Of Pity , which I reviewed here a number of weeks ago, now becomes apparent as a kind of limbering-up for this presentation, in which one particular man remains alone on stage for much more than two uninterrupted hours.
Alone on stage, but not in our perception. The Encounter is not in contrast to one particular of Katie Mitchell’s dramatic deconstructions, except that the artificial composition builds up not just before our eyes but among our ears and that, in a Complicite keynote, the method is in no way allowed to overshadow the material. This account of the lessons and wonders that a technology-totally free Brazilian men and women might have to teach us is conveyed by utilizing modern technologies to create a palpable impression of these wonders.
To March 6, barbican.org.uk
‘The Encounter’ will be offered as a live stream direct from the Barbican on FT.com on Tuesday March 1, at 7.30pm. For a full appreciation, please put on headphones: ft.com/the-encounter
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