‘The world exists and what is more the world happens again and again and again and again,’ Andrew Schneider’s nameless Man tells us, white-faced, ten minutes or so into YOUARENOWHERE. There’s a confessional edge to the show that tempts you to believe the Man is really Schneider – but like everything about YOUARENOWHERE (and are we nowhere, or now here?), it’s all slipperier and more interesting than that.
On a white stage with no set but a hanging empty square frame, the Man lacks the words he needs to talk to us about what’s happening and how often it has happened. Unsatisfied as the Man is by language, Schneider’s solo show – which has toured the world but comes to London as a co-production between LIFT, the Gate Theatre and Shoreditch Town Hall – is initially mostly sensory. The lights in the blank room flicker on and off; a crackle, blackness, then blood red, filling and consuming the stage as the low, loud hum you can feel inside your body thunders on.
He sings to us. He falls to the ground in pain. Another version of the Man suddenly stands over him, silent, watching, and just as suddenly is gone. Things seem to occur with no meaning – but then, slowly and inevitably, meaning begins to seeps in.
YOUARENOWHERE is a show concerned equally with order and chaos, with the ways in which physics is and isn’t part of real life, with love and selfishness and addiction. It feels at times like a physics lecture delivered with a Chris Brett Bailey level of speed and intensity; Schneider collapses logic and structure and theatre-making into meaningless chaos and then teases meaning and order out from all the rubble again. The show is sort of cyclical in its construction but it is also about parallels, about the divergent points in the continual decision-making process that characterises both living and making art (not that you can make art without being alive, but you can live without making art, or anyway, most people can).
It’s not new for theatre to be interested in one of the most narratively intriguing ideas in physics: the parallel world, the split self, the versions of us that theoretically go off in different directions whenever we make decisions or when things happen or fail to happen to us – perhaps most notably touched on in Nick Payne’s devastating Constellations. But Schneider doesn’t care much for Payne’s alternate lives, being far more interested, instead, in alternate deaths. Imagine every time you nearly die, your life splits again – or even every time, as Schneider says, you think about death, perhaps that was one, perhaps the Other You died just then. Just then! You’re thinking about death right now, aren’t you? Whoops. There go your other selves.
It’s easy to grow concerned at odd moments that all the physics is just so much intellectual set dressing inside a light show. Thankfully, whenever you find yourself thinking that, Schneider twists out of your grasp again: things that appear incidental take on meaning, things that appear meaningful recede, versions of Schneider come and go, and also did I mention there are jokes?
As the Man at the centre of everything, Schneider is a grinning, shirtless clown, a watchable, likeable performer who seems willing to rip the world apart to tell us something he can’t quite remember, and the result is a dizzying, discombobulating, jaw-droppingly beautiful hour-or-so of theatre-cum-performance art that seethes and dissolves and remakes itself like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
Too bizarre to be simply, self-aggrandisingly profound and too remarkable to be in any way commonplace or forgettable, YOUARENOWHERE is a hurtling, desperate, wildly entertaining wail in the dark, battering at the walls of an indifferent universe while playing Robyn at top volume. An unmissable, irresistible thing of contradictions, it manages to be – like its title – entirely certain and uncertain, welcoming and unknowable, here and nowhere all at once.
YOUARENOWHERE is on until 18th June 2016. Click here for more information.