I’ve written before about my, shall we say, complicated relationship with the theatre. I take the approach once described by Sir Michael Parkinson: “I have never sat in a theatre without wishing I were in a cinema instead.”
Except…sometimes. This was one of the sometimes. Tempted by a friend who promised that it would appeal to my love of magic and illusion, I saw The Encounter, a one-man show with Simon McBurney, produced by Theatre Complicite. It was on at the Oxford Playhouse and is now touring France, a nice change for football fans tired of the Euros. It’ll be back in the UK soon, I’m sure: it’s terrific.
This is how the programme describes it:
Inspired by the book Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu.
In 1969 Loren McIntyre, a National Geographic photographer, found himself lost among the people of the remote Javari Valley in Brazil. It was an encounter that was to change his life, bringing the limits of human consciousness into startling focus.
Simon McBurney traces McIntyre’s journey into the depths of the Amazon rainforest, incorporating innovative technology into his solo performance to build a shifting world of sound.
It’s this “shifting world of sound: that provides the illusion aspect of the evening. Audience members are asked to wear headphones and McBurney uses multiple tricks and devices to create a truly three-dimensional picture of McIntyre’s extraordinary – and true – Amazonian adventure.
When he encounters the more-or-less undiscovered Mayruna tribe in the depths of the jungle, McIntyre realises to his astonishment that at least one of the tribe – an elder he nicknames “Barnacle” – is communicating with him telepathically – the so-called “Amazon Beaming” that is the title of the book on which the play is based. Subsequent research reveals that this “beaming” has been a long-standing, if little-understood, mystery.
There was another aspect of the drama, however, that caught my imagination, and that was the Mayruna’s concept of time. In my research for Time Travelling With A Hamster, it became clear to me that our “Western” perception of linear time was not the only one. Other cultures viewed time as more fluid, and often “circular”. In the legends of Australian aborigines, this is called Dreamtime; ancient Hindu texts refer to a “wheel of time”. The Mayruna, too, regard time as cyclical. In The Encounter, the Mayruna are attempting, in effect to “time travel” back to pre-Columbian times to escape the encroaching modern world.
McBurney is superb in this show, which is bare theatre at its best. The set is non-existent: a desk, some sound equipment, that’s it. It’s a bit like watching a radio play, except it wouldn’t be anywhere near as good on the radio.