To some, avant-garde theatre is dull: little plot, confusing characters, and long periods of ennui. All of these accusations could, technically, be levelled at YOUARENOWHERE. There’s not much in the way of narrative, and everything from the characters to their surroundings is shrouded in mystery.
But that would be to miss the point. Andrew Schneider’s (almost) one-man performance is literally breathtaking, a gasp-inducing exploration of the Theory of Relativity with a human touch. A star of the infamous Wooster Group, Schneider has a reputation for building creative technology (he invented the solar bikini) and cleverly working it into his shows. YOUARENOWHERE demonstrates Schneider’s virtuoso skill and ease in commanding his special effects in a way that enhances his message.
One of the most anticipated shows of LIFT 2016, a biennial drama festival focusing on political, philosophical and creative theatre which ‘transforms the city into a stage’, YOUARENOWHERE is only in the city for a week, but it’s likely to have a big impact. Find tickets if you can; if not, look out for more of Schneider’s shows in future. If this is anything to go by, they’re sure to be spellbinding.
Unusual in composition, YOUARENOWHERE – which, tellingly, can be interpreted as ‘You Are Now Here’ or ‘You Are Nowhere’ – verges on being unclassifiable. Yet to the extent that theatre is supposed to challenge us, to make us question ourselves and our place in the universe, YOUARENOWHERE is an unparalleled success.
The plot is only discerned through layers of self-reference, interference and static: a raving man is trying to explain the concepts of relativity to us as he is thrown about the stage by unknown forces, until a thrilling confrontation with a fragment of his own self forces him into a mesmerising outburst of personal confession. A great script reaches its furious climax with Schneider’s protagonist desperately trying to prove his own existence. It’s a hypnotic, perfectly judged sequence of anecdotes with an unmistakably authentic feel.
Tempting though it is to reveal the tricks he has in store – and there are plenty – it would harm the potency of the performance. Schneider’s magician-like ability to utterly confound the audience is not only impressive but central to YOUARENOWHERE’s power. Formally, Schneider’s show is a confessional, a loose alliance of minor revelations whose fragmentariness is deliberate and telling. But it’s this dizzying determination to push the boundaries – toying with the audience and himself, as well as the perimeter of conventional theatre – which truly sets it apart.
If the end of individualism is neurosis, Schneider’s urgent, nonsensical monologues represent the final unravelling of the modern mind. Assaulted by the glare of strobe lights and the hiss of reverb, Schneider uses and is used by technology, his body flung about the stage like a marionette. Rewind, pause, amplification: Schneider’s battered self is subjected to all, his suffering centring upon an empty frame hanging from the ceiling which, when penetrated, forces Schneider’s voice into an immediate slow-mo, as though it were some sort of warp hole of time and space. The audience winces as Schneider is subjected to these audio-visual manipulations, a puppet of physics.
Schneider’s preoccupation with quantum theory serves not only as the thematic backdrop for the show’s sense of dislocation, but also as a precursor to the dramatic shift in dimension taking place around the half-way mark of this sixty-minute show. Suffice to say that Schneider demonstrates the mind-bending abstractions of relativity with a correspondingly breathtaking set-piece, transforming the show from diverting oddity to groundbreaking success.
By the time of the show’s dizzying finale, the audience were enraptured, spellbound by Schneider’s bravery, imagination and timing. YOUARENOWHERE offers no answers, but it poses the existential problems of our time in a startling new way which is bound to amaze and delight.
YOUARENOWHERE is at Shoreditch Town Hall until Saturday 18th June.
LIFT 2016 runs until 2nd July