Epsom to the Amazon — and back for dinner

theencounterI travelled from Epsom to the Amazon yesterday afternoon, and made it home in time for dinner. Good job I went via the Barbican in London.

It’s at the Barbican where Simon McBurney, founder of the theatre company Complicité, has been presenting his one-man show The Encounter. The show is based on the extraordinary experience of Loren McIntyre, a photographer for National Geographic, among the Mayoruna, a reclusive Amazonian tribe. He followed a hunting party of Mayoruna into the jungle in 1969 and spent six weeks as a virtual prisoner because he couldn’t find his way out. During that time, he became convinced that the chief of the tribe was communicating with him by telepathy.

McIntyre, an experienced explorer of scientific mind (who would go on to find the source of the Amazon), never wrote the story himself, fearing he would be taken for a madman, but it was drawn out of him years later by Petru Popescu, a Romanian novelist and scriptwriter, and has just been republished in Britain as The Encounter: Amazon Beaming (Pushkin Press).

If McIntyre’s experience was mind-expanding for him, so is McBurney’s production for his audience. With the aid of binaural sound delivered through headphones, he brought us splashing down to the river in a floatplane, sent us stumbling through the jungle, and had us recoiling from “hot breath” on our ears. He transported us from the Barbican to the banks of the Amazon. And all the while he had us questioning long-held certainties about time and perception and consciousness.

The Encounter is sold out at the Barbican but will be touring other cities, including Manchester and Oxford. There can’t be a better-value ticket to the Amazon.

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