Review: The Encounter, Edinburgh

Published in Fest on August 19, 2015

Simon McBurney’s epic new play is many things. It is a thrilling story of survival, based on Petru Popescu’s book Amazon Beaming, following American photographer Loren McIntyre as he gets lost in the Amazon jungle with a sometimes-hostile tribe.It’s a pioneering piece of sonic art, guiding each audience member on a journey with uncannily rendered 3D sound. McBurney’s amplified voice blends with inventive Foley sound-effect creation, played on loop to create a lush aural world.

But The Encounter also goes deeper, using biological and technological innovation to enrich not only a gripping story but also to realise its more metaphysical themes. Loren is able to communicate internally with the tribal leader via a form of mind-reading – a phenomenon which the audience also experiences; sounds and voices that whisk around our skulls.

The Mayoruna tribe’s way of life is threatened by oil developers. The tribe begin to move through the Amazon to “the beginning”, taking Loren with them. And things do get a bit pretty trippy: they destroy their possessions, seek to reach a higher, interconnected state of consciousness, taking hallucinogens and dancing until they break free of time itself. McBurney expands out from this scene, until The Encounter is about the stories we use to make sense of the world – including the very concept of time itself.

His solo performance is vast, dispelling any cynicism. This is a dazzling work that uses modern technology to make vivid an ancient, elemental story.

Where next?