We take the world with us when we go to the theatre. Our private swirls of panic and joy. Whatever public pains have been doled out. I came to Shoreditch Town Hall to see YOUARENOWHERE just a short while after hearing that MP Jo Cox had been murdered. Andrew Schneider’s 2015 New York hit is an immensely artful piece, but following Orlando, following everything, and carrying my own bag of private swirls, it was difficult to approach its art as, simply, art.
I’ll keep description short, because in this case spoilers would also be ruiners. A succession of surprises doesn’t merely jolt you, it makes you question what you’ve seen and how, even your status as audience. A sophisticated destabilising tactic, it’s theatrical, theoretical, almost physical.
Schneider is a player in New York performance – former ‘whiz-kid-in-residence‘ at the Wooster Group, a frequent collaborator with The TEAM – and his precision-tooled light and sound skills are (sometimes literally) dazzling. We have to scrabble to find threads through the scenes, but one of them is an anxiously informal physics lecture. Like Daniel Kitson and Nick Payne, Schneider finds physics innately theatrical – the play of space and time, the reframing of experience. It seems telling that at a moment of darkened public discourse, where trust runs low and an itchy cynicism high, that we’d be drawn to performances that help us feel we’re anywhere but now.
YOUARENOWHERE seems to address us from the past or future(s). From the beginning, we play catch-up with the judder of scenes, micro-glimpses snatched from the dark. Schneider rattles through his notes, skips through possible soundtracks, is momentarily confronted by a double. He screams at the gloom, crouches down to whisper in a spectator’s ear. Your mind races to make sense, make connections. We’re always behind, so even in the moment we’ never feel in the here and now.
Is that all there is?
The two-ways title is genius. You are now here? You may not feel it. You are nowhere? If so, that’s a dizzying place to be. Whenever the room snaps into darkness, we squint-guess what we’ll see when the lights flare. I was mostly looking in the wrong direction, never anticipated the quality of light (pinging white, queasy grey, mystic blue) or sound (filtered to buggery, echoing, distorting). Scenes turn from confessional to lipsynch, bleed from recorded to live.
The work occupies an apparently bare stage – bare but for the uncanny picture frame which hangs above the floor, either saturating Schneider’s face in wincing glare or devouring it in shadow. As the sleights of hand multiply – as Schneider loses control, develops a nosebleed, clings to fragments of the known – a theatrical swagger takes over, and that’s both a gasping pleasure and disquieting loss. Is that all there is? Suddenly, instead of feeling my mind and heart racing, I was working through the mechanics; and when, at the end, Schneider invited us to hang out and drink beers, buy tote bags and try the selfie station, I was dismayed. Counselling, fine. Merchandising? Fuck off.
In an evening that shoves you from certainties, I found myself clinging to the spectacle of Schneider’s handsomely ordinary body. To his own apparent surprise, he’s topless, so you clock the sculpt and softness, the moles and fur, the sweat coaxing plaster-white make-up past his clavicle. Amid this conceptual spin, he’s a human, and his bag of private swirls circle around death and disillusion. Is he here, or nowhere? Are we? And where do we want to be?
Acknowledgements: My year of being frantic to see this piece was sparked by Nicole Serratore hyperventilating on the Maxamoo podcast, and subsequently her review and interview with Schneider. Photo by Maria Baranova.
Follow David on Twitter: @mrdavidjays