The Encounter – an engrossing and rewarding theatrical experience

If you want to encounter one of the great performance of the Arts Festival make sure you see The Encounter.

The Encounter
Director Simon McBurney
Auckland Arts Festival
Aotea Centre
Until March 19

If you want to encounter one of the great performance of the arts festival, make sure you see The Encounter. It will change the way you see the world and the way you experience the theatre.

You probably haven’t heard of Loren McIntyre but he is one of the great explorers of the 20th century. He is credited with “discovering” the source of the Amazon, or at least the first of the lakes that feeds that river. It is now called Laguna McIntyre.

As a photographer for National Geographic he met a tribe in the remote Amazon jungle in an encounter that changed the way he viewed the world and everything he thought he knew about the world

In this solo show, each seat comes with a pair of headphones and the voice of the explorer (played by Richard Katz) along with other pre-recorded ones flood around us as we  follow  the almost mythical journey  of McIntyre, as he travels up the  Amazon in 1969, gets lost in the jungle, makes  contact with the Mayoruna tribe and lives a nomadic life with them, communicating through some sort of psychic or telepathic fashion with the headman and gaining an understanding of their unique culture.

As well as encountering this group of people which is very different from him, he also becomes aware of the encounters the tribe has had with other Europeans in search of oil, damaging incidents which have continued since then.

While the story of McIntyre’s journey is extraordinary, writer/ director Simon Burney uses it to explore ideas around realism and fiction, storytelling and language both in the theatre as well as in the wider world.

A critical point in the narrative occurs when the photographer discovers his film has been stolen and his camera destroyed (by a monkey). He has no record of his documentation of the tribe, no evidence of “discovery.” He also must determine whether his telepathic communications are real or illusory, brought on by exhaustion or drug induced.

What to him is floundering almost blindly through the jungle is the following of well-worn paths for the tribe and the final act of the tribe in destroying and burning all their possessions so that they can start a new beginning is antithetical to his European world view.

However, this is more than just a narrative recounting of an explorer’s journey. McBurney, through the voice of Richard Katz and other voices, provides an extraordinary theatrical experience. We are not just in the jungle with Loren McIntyre, we are also on stage with the performer/narrator Richard Katz and we are also in the narrator’s apartment in London where he is putting together the play and the other voices. But even this location has another dimension as the narrator’s young daughter continually interrupts him to ask about the voices she can hear.

This multi-level monologue/dialogue is also enhanced with a soundscape of jungle sounds and clever digital manipulation which makes the viewer/listener aware of sound in three dimensions. When Katz walks across the stage we hear his voice move from one ear to the other and when he blows into his microphone we really seem to feel his breath in our ear. There are also annoying mosquitoes that seem to circle the listener and audience heads jerk involuntarily ducking from the pesky creatures.

The elaborate sound system along with clever backdrop, impressive lighting and the tireless performance by Richard Katz transform the evening into an engrossing and rewarding theatrical experience.