If your vacations haven’t been focused on interaction with indigenous shamans (as have many of mine), if your experience with LSD or other shape-shifting substances were interesting but not worthy of quiting your day job, if you just didn’t have the resources to brave the cutting edge theatre at Edinburgh, get thee to The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.  The provinces are alive with great theatre, including  Complicite Theatre’s The Encounter.

The Encounter offers a challenging exposure to some of the fundamental concerns about indigenous spirituality.

In simplistic terms, consider where you “go” when you “go to sleep” and how did you “wake” up … to what? Is this “here and now” or perhaps a “where”? How do we “know” the “real” story?” Are we all at a / the “beginning”?

Simon McBurney’s body and this “head” and the capabilities of both to create magic provide the liminal tools to explore this most elementary state where traditional narratives fall short.

No time to envy those with full access backstage passes to the Barbican or Broadway dressing rooms, much less the sound booth! Evert seat in the Bram Goldsmith Theatre was equally outfitted to hear Simon McBurney’s take you on his monological encounter with National Geographic Society photographer Loren McIntyre’s encounter with a remote tribe in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest as recounted by local BevHill author Petru Popescu.

The entire program is a magical, tech headtrip through Sennheiser earphones placed at each seat. At the opening of the show, a “voice” inside your head asks you to align the speakers right-right, left-left, as does McBurney from the stage. Much like a carnival ride operator, he demonstrates the incredible quality of the binaural sound system that enables him to warm the follicles of your right ear and give goose bumps to your left arm.

Clicking on the Sennheiser link takes one to an incredible back story about the recording/playback  in the jungle by Gareth Fry! Here’s a glimpse:

“Binaural sound is a fantastic brush in the storyteller’s palette … [it] is a great medium for drama because it can create a great sense of space, of a panorama, and of a performers placement within that world. For The Encounter it is the perfect medium to tell the story, and creates an experience that has ignited audiences around the world. The sound design was awarded the UK’s Evening Standard award for Best Design. … We also provide a mono mix, and a variety of interfaces for hearing aids to make sure the show is accessible to all.”

Once we were adjusted to the technology, McBurney admonished us to close our eyes as he sliped into storyteller, story-tolder, and all the characters necessary to take away from the Supreme Court, Syria, EPA, etc., etc. Juxtaposing layer upon layer of audio of various virtual inhabitants of this “realm”, including animal, vegetable, mineral and the earth itself (water, soil, air, etc.), one can got an immersive experience without the mosquito bites, nausea from ingesting hallucinogenic substances, hunger, thirst and exhaustion. One also didn’t get a deep sense of fear, confusion, helplessness, etc. however, which was likely good if one has to remember to pay for parking at the kiosk before exiting.

At one point, I removed my headset (yes, I “peeked”!) to hear what was coming from the audience (silence) and the bare stage, save for a table, chair, gooseneck lamp, lots of small bottles of water and a manikin head that covered a standing microphone, the “everyman”. It is this latter object that might challenge a copy editor to identify that McBurney, the only “live” human there, was the “one” on the right in a photo caption. If I could, I would have asked the “head” (aka Sennheiser KU100) to occasionally whistle a happy tune or assure the McIntyre character that it was “only” theatre, but McBurney/McIntyre was capable through rants and pounding and other encounters with what was visible on stage. He assured everyone at the end of the show that the aboriginal people were real, that Climate Change is real and that the locals are actively dealing with the issue. So must we be.

I deeply enjoy Complicite’s work after having seen its presentation of Shun-kin at UCLA (2013) with Yoshi Oida and bunraku (Japanese traditional puppetry). The Wallis’ Artistic Director Paul Crewes (formerly of Kneehigh, whose “946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips” he also presented on the bill a few months ago) is doing a great job brining to our province some of the best performing arts that the rest of the world has already been enjoying. For this, we must thank him … and you for filling the theatre.

Stay tuned for Peter Brook’s Battlefield, a snippet from his monumental Mahabharata, that will be staged in May 24 – 28.

The Encounter was directed and performed by Simon McBurney. Kirsty Housley is the co-director and Jemima Jones is Associate Director. Design is by Michael Levine, sound by Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin, lighting by Paul Anderson and projections designed by Will Duke. The Encounter is a Complicite co-production with Edinburgh International Festival, the Barbican, London, Onassis Cultural Centre – Athens, Schaubühne Berlin, Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne and Warwick Arts Centre. Supported by Sennheiser and the Wellcome Trust.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.