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Review: The Encounter

Adelaide Festival

The 3D audio technology in The Encounter is so sharp you would swear actor Richard Katz is whispering directly in your ear. You can practically feel his warm breath.

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Then you’re transported to the depths of the Amazon jungle.

The loud whirr of a plane landing. The roar of the river. A crack of thunder right next to you. Frenzied swarms of mosquitoes buzzing around your head. Rain falling through foliage directly above. The rustle of grasses as National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre walks through the jungle, lost with the mysterious Mayoruna tribespeople.

Wait.

Now you’re in the home of the narrator/creator … yes, that’s his young daughter’s sweet, high-pitched voice asking Daddy for a snack and a bedtime story. Now she’s singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” right behind you.

Bang!

There goes the door as she leaves the room. And you’re back in the forest with McIntyre, trying desperately to communicate with the tribespeople, to find a way out of the dense, moving maze.

Created by Simon McBurney, director of UK theatre company Complicite, The Encounter is a one-man show inspired by Romanian author Petru Popescu’s novel, Amazon Beaming, based on McIntyre’s accounts of his experiences in the Amazon jungle in 1969.

It uses binaural technology (3D audio), with myriad sounds relayed to the audience via supplied Sennheiser headphones.  

The Encounter also poses philosophical questions: What is reality? Can we get back to the beginning? What is the impact of “discovering” lost tribes?

Katz’s performance throughout the one-hour-and-50-minute show is mesmerising. He transforms seamlessly from narrator to McIntyre, using his voice, audio loops and sound effects created live on stage with ordinary objects (a crushed chip packet emulates the crackling of a fire, a shaken water bottle replicates the sloshing of a river) to build what is described as “a shifting world of sound”. That sound is relayed from the stage through a head-shaped microphone.

Adelaide Festival co-artistic director Neil Armfield has described the magic as being created “with the sleeves rolled up”, in that audience members can see the various pieces being put together, but are nonetheless swept up in the strange unfolding events.

The audio feeds our visual imagination, enabling us to picture the emaciated head tribesman with “barnacles” on his legs, the exposed camera film dangling from a tree branch. Close your eyes for a few minutes and let the sounds flow over you, through you, around you – so real they provoke involuntary shivers.

We’ve come to expect technology to be integrated into live entertainment experiences, but it’s rare to see (and hear) sound wizardry take centre stage in the theatre. Getting lost in the jungle with The Encounter is absorbing, surprising and at times hypnotic … it’s almost a wrench when you find your way out again.

The Encounter is being presented at the Dunstan Playhouse until March 11 as part of the Adelaide Festival. It is recommended for ages 10 plus.

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