The Encounter at Auckland Arts Festival: Journey to the Amazon without leaving town

It seems counter-intuitive to go to live theatre and put on headphones - but then nothing about The Encounter is particularly conventional.

The one-man show, about National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre's time lost among an 'uncontacted' tribe in remote Brazil in 1969, leans heavily on audio to draw the audience into the Amazon rainforest.

Sound and light evoke a tactile response to things you can't even see: you recoil from fire, swat at mosquitoes and feel the prickly discomfort of humid tropical rain.

"What you see is pretty much an empty stage – the creation of everything else happens in your mind," says performer Richard Katz.

It's a more visceral version of reading a really good book. Katz roams around the stage, speaking and rustling objects into different microphones, and mixing that with loop pedals and voice changers (assisted by an expert technical team), giving you just enough cues to form the pictures in your mind.

"Because your brain is desperate to make sense of the world around us, it sort of fills in the gaps," Katz explains.

The Encounter Richard Katz
Richard Katz in The Encounter (Toni Wilkinson/Supplied)

The Encounter employs binaural sound, which mimics the 360-degree range of human hearing.

Movement is much more perceptive than stereo or surround sound can capture, the impact being a mind-bending, wondrous journey with Loren as he struggles to understand the world he has been plunged into, forcing him to question his own existence, and that of the environment around him.

You become engulfed by his terror, fear and delirium, which may just be conveyed through a combination of sounds and light but manifest themselves physically.

Created by London-based experimental theatre company Complicite, The Encounter has received rave reviews worldwide, including during its Broadway run in 2016.

It's a powerful demonstration of the capacity of the human brain: to create, to survive, and to question.

The Encounter is playing at the Auckland Arts Festival until March 19.

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