Friday, 3 February 2017

The Encounter, Feb 2, 2017 ****1/2

By Complicite & Simon McBurney (from UK)
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, until Feb 10, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars ****1/2

Review also online at Herald Sun on Feb 2, 2017 and later in print. KH
 Richard Katz in The Encounter, pics by Joan Marcus
Do not adjust your headphones because Richard Katz in The Encounter is about to transport you to the jungles of the Brazilian Amazon in this startling and immersive feast of sound and story.

Katz may be alone on stage surrounded by microphones, reams of videotape and other detritus of the modern world, but he populates the space with characters through his versatile voice, evocative storytelling and the maddeningly complex aural landscape that he and the sound technicians create to hurl us into the rainforest.

The show is based on Petru Popescu’s book, Amazon Beaming, that explores the experiences of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre who, when stranded in the remote Amazonian jungle in 1969, encountered the isolated Mayoruna tribe of ‘cat people’.

All audience members wear high-tech headphones that transmit Katz’s voice and a remarkable array of sound effects directly to our ears, an experience that feels extremely intimate because Katz seems to be whispering immediately beside us.

The experience is initially alarmingly disorienting as Katz’s voice and the soundscape shifts from our left ear to our right or seems to move around us, behind us, shifting closer or further away as if we are hearing and experiencing the real world.

This weird and compelling effect is the result of Katz speaking near the mysterious, ‘binaural’ head that is some inconceivable form of 3-D microphone that looks like a ghostly sentinel perched on top of a totem pole.

The charming and gleeful Katz transports us to the Amazon, addressing us directly as himself and as and McIntyre, the deep-voiced American, but he also conjures a parade of other people including Barnacle, the wart-covered tribal chief, Red Cheeks, the rebellious tribesman and Tootie, a playful boy.

As the cacophonous sounds of the rainforest and its creatures and people pump into our ears, we slap away a mosquito, turn to check no one is standing at our shoulder or walking towards us over crumpled leaves, or that we are not dangerously close to a surging river.
The Encounter is a strangely hallucinatory experience and, as we trek through the jungle with McIntyre and the tribe, we question our perceptions of reality and what is fact or fiction, what is real or manufactured, while we muse with McIntyre about solitude, the march of time and the nature of civilisation.

Using ancient rituals and hallucinogens, Barnacle wants to take his tribe back to ‘the beginning’, defying time, returning to a period and place where white man and his planes, weapons and sickness cannot reach them.

We ponder the nature of communication as McIntyre struggles to understand how Barnacle beams messages directly to him without speech, and we confront our own materialism as McIntyre deals with losing all material goods, including his precious camera and the film that holds the images that make the experience ‘real’ for him.

The Encounter by Complicite is a challenging and mesmerising performance that creates a world in our minds and reminds us of the extraordinary skill of the actor and the magic that is great theatre.

By Kate Herbert

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