THE ENCOUNTER BY SIMON MCBURNEY

Curated by Marthe van de Grift

Sitting on the couch, I am watching the theatre play The Encounter by Simon McBurney on my laptop, when suddenly I hear the annoying buzzing of a mosquito in my left ear. I try to get rid of it by flinging my hand aggressively near my ear only to realise... there is no mosquito. I am entering the realm of The Encounter 

Bringing theatre into your living room. That sounds kind of cheesy and unambitious, right? Well, not in the case of The Encounter by Simon McBurney. Better said, this theatre play doesn’t come into your home: it takes you out of your home and into the deepest depths of the Amazon rainforest. Using his voice and 3D (binaural) audio, Simon constructs a hallucinatory world and - thanks to our headphones - it changes us from mere viewers into experiencers. 

Some say it’s a new era in theatre making. I’d have to agree, because theatre is not just conveying a message, the form is an important part of that message. Binaural audio gives an extra dimension to this form. It enables the makers and the players to design another reality which is an extension of reality as we know it.  

The Encounter is an impressive work of art – particularly special to experience it from your own living room – but with the extensive use of this fairly new audio technique, it feels like Simon almost squeezed the life out of it. I share his enthusiasm about this technique, but sometimes one gains more with being subtle. Instead of defining the play by its numerous climaxes, the experiencer would benefit from a regulation of intensity and quantity of sounds throughout the piece. 

At times it is difficult to immerse oneself into the story because what I see is not what I hear. I see Simon crumpling up a bag of crisps but I hear a crackling fire. But once I do manage to dive into the story, what makes it vivid is my own imagination, not what I see on stage. I feel like a child being read to before falling asleep. It has been a long time since I got this lost in my own imagination. 

I could keep writing about my experience, but I’d say put your headphones on and sweat along with the heavy-voiced American protagonist Loren McIntyre! 

The Encounter will be online from May 15th until May 22nd (2020).  

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