Travel To The Amazon Without Leaving Barbican: The Encounter Reviewed

Complicite/Simon McBurney: Encounter, Barbican Centre ★★★★★

By Rosalind Stone Last edited 24 months ago
Travel To The Amazon Without Leaving Barbican: The Encounter Reviewed Complicite/Simon McBurney: Encounter, Barbican Centre 5
Image: Barbican Centre

Our first encounter with The Encounter is startlingly stark: microphones, water-bottles, brickwork. We don our headphones, and Simon McBurney — actor, auteur, anthropologist — whisks us out of the Barbican and into the Amazon — zeroing in on the “six inches of electrified putty” between our ears.

He alights nimbly in different places in our heads, addressing each ear in turn and explaining the brilliance of the creativity of Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin’s soundscape as we move through it: the omnipresent tropical mosquito is revealed to be a prerecorded breath of air passing through a polystyrene-coated comb. As Complicite begins to work its charms, we are utterly complicit.

Several realities run congruently, sometimes interrupting one another, each with their own dramatic allure. We’re enthralled as McBurney pacifies his past self in a disagreement over who is experiencing the actual present: “What are you doing on stage?” “It’s opening night tonight.” “Should I be worried?” “Probably.”

As we follow US photographer Loren McIntyre’s foray into an unknown vista of the Brazilian Amazon, the minimalist nature of Michael Levine’s set begins to take on a new richness. Each item is revealed to be sonically instrumental, complemented by Paul Anderson's geometric lighting. McBurney treads though the unraveled innards of video cassettes, recording the soft crunch and looping the sound until it becomes the hundreds of feet of the Mayoruna people on their journey to The Beginning.

McBurney’s daughter often interrupts his narration of the Amazon adventure, demanding stories or snacks on several nocturnal occasions (all decidedly past her bedtime). His accommodation of these interruptions is beautifully twinned with his resumption of the jungle narrative: One of the most miraculous blending of timelines occurs when she demands he, “do the animal noises,” which then slowly multiply and biologically diversify until we return to the thick of the rain forest.

This production is an extensive, probing investigation into shared consciousness: what makes a narrative real? As the house lights flag up the stark ordinariness of the brickwork and the volume of McBurney’s voice ebbs away, we’re left trying to internalise the dissipating psychedelic magic.

Complicite/Simon McBurney: Encounter is on until 5 March 2016 at Barbican Centre, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS. Tickets are £32-£42 (plus booking fee) and can be bought online in advance. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 19 February 2016