Complicite’s Encounter goes online

May 9 2020 | By More

2015 EdIntFest hit to get free YouTube streaming

Simon McBurney’s hit show The Encounter for Complicité theatre company, which premiered at the 2015 Edinburgh International Festival, is to get a free online streaming from this Friday, 15 May 2020. It will remain online for a week.

McBurney’s multilayered account of photographer Loren McIntyre’s first encounter with the indigenous Mayoruna people, deep in the Amazon rain forest, stood out in what was one of most inventively programmed EIFs for years.

Simon McBurney in The Encounter. Pic Complicite

Its move online seems highly appropriate – the audience in the theatre were themselves asked to put on headphones to experience this combination of soundscape-theatre and storytelling.

So too are the online audience. And it is this use of headphones and binaural technology which gives the show its power not only to draw the audience into its world, but also to get inside their heads and travel with them deep into the shared source of our humanity.

Using a studio-full of recording technology on stage, including a functioning binaural head, and with an unseen team of technicians to organise the live manipulations of McBurney’s voice and the playback of field recordings from the Amazon, the performance is transferred from the stage deep into the heads of his audience.

stories heard at night

Literally so, or so it feels to experience. Thanks to the binaural technology, McBurney’s whispers move around the inside of your head. It’s like the way stories are heard at night by a child on the way to sleep he says, whispering in your ear. Which, with your eyes closed for a moment, responds and gets warm as he blows into it.

Simon McBurney in The Encounter. Pic Complicite

McIntyre’s 1969 journey has been stewing inside McBurney since he first read Petru Popescu’s account of it 25 years ago. And in his telling of it, it becomes first the broader encounter between ancient and modern civilisations and, on a much deeper level, a personal encounter for his audience with the atavistic notions which we all share as human animals.

Thanks to his use of audio, McBurney pulls his audience into the Amazon, where McIntyre got lost in his search for the perfect photograph.

A veteran of 30 years of photographing in the area, McIntyre’s encounter with the Mayoruna, the cat people as they call themselves, came as they were preparing to retreat even further into the forest, fleeing the encroaching white man with his search for oil. They were about to take a deeper journey to the source of time itself. McIntyre was to be their validation of the process.

another plane of consciousness

Watching the play live, five years ago, was to witness the accoutrements of modern life being stripped away for McIntyre, as his encounters with the tribe and environment become all the more intimate and life threatening.

As McBurney recounted and performed the rituals which bonded the two cultures, so the play entered a different level.

Simon McBurney in The Encounter. Pic Complicite

There is an obvious contradiction in relying on 21st century technology to examine this notion of a pure and unsullied origin in a live show – all more so if you are sitting alone with the sounds in your head in a room full of people.

The contradictions will no doubt multiply – and just add to the complexity of the whole production – in watching it over the internet, listening on your own headphones, alone in your room as McBurney takes you up into another plane of consciousness; a place from where the ripples of humanity might have set out.

This, certainly, is one to watch. It will be shown with a new introduction from Simon McBurney that “responds to the current moment”.

Alongside The Encounter there will be a live discussion event and public Q&A on Wed 20 May at 7.30pm. Simon McBurney will be joined by Filmmaker T-kuimã, writer Charlotte Du Cann and Professor of Drama and Performance: Paul Heritage.

The Encounter
Directed and performed by Simon McBurney
Watch online at
7pm Friday 15 – 10pm Friday 22 May 2020
Watch previews and support material on Complicité’s YouTube Channel.
Supported by The Space and #CultureinQuarantine.

The Encounter Webinar Q&A
Wed 20 May at 7.30pm.
With Simon McBurney, Filmmaker T-kuimã, writer Charlotte Du Cann and Professor of Drama and Performance: Paul Heritage.
Click here to register.

Complicité add: “Don’t forget you MUST wear headphones to experience the binaural (3D) sound design in the show. You won’t get the same effect just listening through speakers.”


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