REVIEW: The Encounter (Auckland Arts Festival)

Review by Rachael Longshaw-Park

The Encounter presented by Complicite

[Expanding Storytelling]

Having the voice of Richard Katz whisper into your right ear is a profoundly intimate encounter you wouldn’t expect from the comfort of your chair situated ten metres from the stage, yet, as Katz demonstrates in his preshow demonstration, technology can take theatre to places we have never experienced before.

For one hour and fifty minutes Katz manages to deliver a complex narrative that weaves multiple time-lines, voices and concepts together into an overwhelming aural performance.

From the audience side, the set-up is simple. Each of us dons a pair of headphones for the entire performance. Performance side things get a little trickier. Katz orchestrates a rich and encompassing soundscape using multiple microphones, utilising water bottles, chip packets, loose ribbons of film, and his own person. This is picked up and delivered into our headphones with the help of an impressive piece of technology called a Binaural Head (developed by Sennhieser) that can capture 360-degree sound. We experience the sound as if we really were in the same space.

At the centre of this thrilling experience is the story of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre who found himself lost amongst an indigenous tribe in remote Javari Valley in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil. McIntyre’s story sparks a wider discussion about the concept of time and how we in a modern society perceive, construct and quantify it opposed to how it might exist in nature. Through his connection to the head of the tribe, Loren begins to piece together a philosophy of time through the eyes of these people, altering his way of thinking forever. The overall construction of the show seeks to question distinctions between reality and fiction, highlighted by the interruption of Katz’s daughter asking for more stories before bedtime. The interspersing interviews mark snippets of time and bring us back into modern society, and our own present time, to reflect on the journey he takes us on. At times The Encounter is fast paced and overwhelming, and other times truly pensive and isolating, yet it is captivating from open to close.

So, why use this medium of high-tech sound production to present Loren’s story? Firstly, there is never a good reason why theatre shouldn’t expand and develop as a medium, and secondly, there are definite advantages to this method of storytelling that take the story of Loren McIntyre’s journey from being one man’s account to a collective experience.

Katz dabbles with the complexity of cognitive impression by showing us that when altering your brains perception, you can influence a physical reaction without a true physical stimulus. At one point, Katz blows into the ‘ear’ of the head and the listener experiences not only the sound of the breath but also a temperature change in the ear canal. This kind of exploration into this technology signals future possibilities of how we might define and construct theatrical experiences. On the one hand, it is easy to suggest the story could still be told in traditional format (whatever that really is now), however, the layers of the story build when the technology is added and played with. The sound becomes another player on the stage with which Katz can riff with and perform with, another vehicle to tell and develop the story.

If, as Aristotle said, theatre truly is mimetic then The Encounter plays with the truest form of mimesis you can imagine. There are limits to the way in which one can describe a physical and mind altering theatrical experience such as this, therefore I implore you to see this show now to experience it yourselves.

The Encounter plays at the Aotea Centre until 19 March. Details see Auckland Arts Festival

SEE ALSO: review by Nik Smythe

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