It's not immediately apparent that the man in jungle fatigues and army cap who slips onto a stage littered with microphones, speakers and a smorgasbord of hi-tech twenty-first century kit is Simon McBurney. Nor that his jokey demonstrations of sensurround binaural sound inbetween taking pictures of a headphone-clad audience on his iPhone for his children means the show has begun. But then, defining the beginning of time itself is what drives McBurney's mind-expanding exploration of human consciousness in this world premiere of a co-production between McBurney's Complicitie company, Edinburgh International Festival and a host of suitably pan-global partners.
Inspired by Romanian writer Petru Popescu's book, Amazon Beaming, The Encounter ostensibly tells the story of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre, who in 1969 stumbled upon the Mayoruna tribe on the edge of Portugal and Brazil. McIntyre's experience with a people already pillaged by white western developers is enlightening enough in its consciousness-raising voyage into the unknown. McBurney's telling, however, transcends the story's roots to become part action-packed adventure, part immersive meditation, peppered throughout with an aural cut-up of scientific commentary, a contemporary classical underscore and the voices of McBurney's own children bringing him back down to earth.
McBurney and his army of collaborators, who include designer Michael Levine, sound designer Gareth Fry and co-director Kirsty Housley, have integrated a dazzling technical display into McBurney's journey. At the piece's heart is McIntyre and McBurney's encounter, not just with a lost civilisation attempting to preserve their purity, but with their very being and an entirely constructed western so-called civilisation they navigate their way through in an astonishing theatrical feat where discovery is all.
Supported by Sir Ewan and Lady Brown through the Edinburgh International Festival Commissioning Fund.
The Herald, August 10th 2015