Storytelling gets an extreme workout at the Edinburgh International Festival in Simon McBurney’s multi-layered account of photographer Loren McIntyre’s first encounter with the indigenous Mayoruna people, deep in the Amazon rain forest.
Using a studio full of recording technology on stage and with an unseen team of technicians to organise the live manipulations of his voice and the playback of recordings he has made in preparation, the performance is transferred from the stage deep into the heads of the audience (literally, or so it feels).
With binaural technology on stage and headphones on the audience, his whispers move around the inside of your head: 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).
Complicite’s The Encounter is as much about manipulation and preparation as anything else. McBurney chats and jokes, taking picture on his phone for his kids as a technician sorts out his microphones. We wave. He holds up the video tape transfer of a Super 8 film he says he will share with us later.
But those are just skins, the first layers of the adventure to peel away as he talks of memory, the place of story in creating history, whether the modern notion that there is an absolute reality can be true and how time might not, in fact, be linear.
McIntyre’s 1969 journey has been stewing inside McBurney since he first read Petru Popescu’s account of it 20 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.
First, however, McBurney has to pull his audience through a world of sound, into the Amazon, where McIntyre got lost in his search for the perfect photograph. A veteran of 30 years of photographing in the area, his encounter with the Mayoruna, the cat people as they call themselves, came as they were preparing to go back even further, 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.
As accoutrements of modern life are stripped away for McIntyre, as his encounters with the tribe and environment become all the more intimate and life threatening, and as McBurney recounts and performs the rituals which bonded the two cultures, so the production enters a different level.
There is a buzz of contradiction in relying on 21st century technology to examine this notion of an unsullied origin, but that is where McBurney succeeds. Here, glimpsed but not entered, is another plane of consciousness, a place from where the ripples of humanity might have set out.
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