An unforgettable journey into the Amazon through 3D sound
This article is from 2015.
About a quarter of the way through Simon McBurney's new show with Complicite, I realise I am watching with my jaw open. So astonishing and inventive is this production that it feels like we're witnessing a real turning point in theatre, a performance that will be looked back on in years to come as hugely influential.
The Encounter uses binaural (3D) sound technology, which the audience experiences through the headphones provided, to bring Petru Popescu's Amazon Beaming to life on stage. Popescu's 1993 book tells the real-life tale of American photographer Loren McIntyre, who travels to the Amazon in 1969, encounters the 'uncontacted' Mayoruna tribe and is seemingly captured by them.
The Amazonian setting evokes images of rich, green vegetation and coursing rivers; but on stage here at the ultra-modern Conference Centre, McBurney has only a few props, a tangle of wires, some bottles of water, speakers and a head-shaped binaural microphone for company. Behind him on the expansive, empty-ish stage is a huge anechoic (echo-free) chamber wall, and its formidable appearance gets drawn into McBurney's tale-telling too.
What McBurney does so well is demystify binaural technology, explaining to us in entertaining detail how it works. So when he begins to tell McIntyre's story – loosely intercut with the actor's young daughter's amusing interjections during his working process ('Daddy, it's so boring') – we're not over-awed by the technology because we understand how it works. Instead, we're captivated by how McBurney uses it to create a deeply immersive world with almost no props.
It's an intense two hours and, thanks to its intelligent set-up and McBurney’s astounding performance, they're unforgettable. If Fergus Linehan continues to programme breathtaking works like this for the Edinburgh International Festival, we're in for a good few years ahead.
EICC, 473 2000, until 23 Aug, 7.30pm (20 Aug, 2.30pm), £32.