YOUARENOWHERE, all one word, can be read two ways. It can be a statement of certainty, of being decisively placed in the world: you are now here. Or it can be a revelation of nothingness, of uncertainty: you are nowhere.
Andrew Schneider’s glitching mindfuck of a show is sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both. It is, in every sense of the word, disorientating. It jolts its audience out of time and space – or maybe it just makes us realise that time and space are one and the same, and that everything is happening all at once.
From the moment we first see Schneider before us, the rules by which we usually order world and stage are violently disrupted. Schneider doesn’t enter; he suddenly materialises. The lights snap on and there he is, shirtless and panting, as if vomited up out of nowhere into this bare white space. In appealing disarray, he begins to talk to us, but the mechanics of the show around him keep interrupting. Coloured lights flash on and off. Huge swells of sound swallow his words. Technology glitches.
You think of time like a line, right? Or like a road, stretching out behind and ahead, you gliding along in the driver’s seat. Wrong. In his quick-fire, cut-up lecture – stories are abruptly truncated, ideas diced up and thrown back together – Schneider rapidly unsettles popular, shared notions of time. The references whizz by so fast it’s almost impossible to grasp them – Einstein’s theory of relativity gets a nod, I’m pretty sure – but the overall sense is of a sudden unmooring from the certainties of seconds, minutes and hours.
It’s about form as much as, if not more than, content. There are moments in the show when we feel time, we note its passage (even if “passage” is just another flawed metaphor for a false, man-made construction). At other points, we can see its signifiers – the clock rapidly counting down, the lights flickering on and off – but feel somehow wrenched out of it. Or at least I do. As Schneider makes clear, different perspectives create different realities.
Death, as well as time, is a constant preoccupation. If there’s any way in which we can individually grasp time, after all, it’s as an inexorable movement towards our eventual demise. What if, Schneider poses, every time you thought about death there was another you, in a parallel reality, who had actually died in that moment? Like a morbid take on Sliding Doors, or a version of Constellations with a rapidly mounting body count.
And there’s more. There’s all this stuff about missed connections, fate, love. The loneliness of being trapped inside your own head, your own existence, trapped outside the perceptions of others. Forever separate. “We exist in each other’s realities,” says Schneider. “But not in the way that we think we do.”
Those words might read as a thesis of sorts, if it were possible to boil YOUARENOWHERE down to anything as simple or straightforward as a thesis. As a demonstration of its own ideas, Schneider’s show refuses to slot into any kind of linear logic, impressing itself on the consciousness as a disconnected series of images and sounds and thoughts. But, whatever physics might say, we humans are meaning-making creatures, and so meaning emerges nonetheless.
Schneider, though, has a few tricks to unsettle that instinctive dot-joining. The second half of the show is a series of dazzling, gasp-out-loud rug pulls, each more audacious than the last. Just as we think we’ve found our footing, Schneider sends us stumbling once again. The last reveal in particular robs me of my breath and makes my stomach fall entirely away. I feel dizzy, discombobulated, as lost as the man on stage.
But what’s really there beyond the trickery? Is it, I ask myself, just a load of superficially clever posturing dressed up in the kind of pulse-raising stagecraft that makes me go giddy? There are definitely bits of YOUARENOWHERE that feel like the “gobbets” Irwin encourages the Oxbridge hopefuls to use in The History Boys: chunks of borrowed cleverness, plundered with little care for their origins. And yet. Whether it’s the startling precision of Schneider’s staging or the cumulative effect of the show’s snippets of physics and philosophy (most likely both), something about YOUARENOWHERE lingers. Days later, its echoes still intermittently rupture the rhythms of the day like a shiver down the spine – or, perhaps, like the unnerving feeling that I’ve been here before.
Presented by Shoreditch Town Hall, Gate Theatre, Notting Hill and LIFT. Part of LIFT 2016.