non zero one have made a habit of taking their audiences to unexpected places – from the hidden recesses of theatres, to unfamiliar realms of companionship – and now on the expansive roof of the National Theatre you’ll see [me sailing in antarctica] takes them further than ever before. As you step out onto a balcony under an ominously greying sky, the sights of London’s South Bank look familiar enough, yet during this exploration of perception and memory everything that was once recognisable will be discovered anew.
First there’s the task of getting twenty or so intensely distracted people safely along a constructed walkway, onto a platform and sat around a reflective circular table which is placed on the edge of nothingness, underneath a giant luminous orb. As ever, non zero one elegantly integrate explication of otherwise mundane conventions into the performance itself, and before you know it you’re making eye contact with strangers as their every sniffle and sigh is softly amplified through the microphones and earpieces all are wired in to.
As the five cast members sat at the table lecture on neuroscience or the eye’s muscular machinery they weave fact, poetry and brain-training into an ever-complicating web. Truth and memory are rapidly brought in and out of focus to disconcerting effect: floating peacefully on the recollection of a happy time, you suddenly slam up against the realisation that most memory is fabricated and the image that has just been created can not be relied on at all. In James Bulley’s immersive soundscape reality and imagination bleed together even further. Music plays – or is it simply being carried on the wind from the nearby concert halls? Sirens bounce off the theatre’s fly towers, but with no flashing blue lights to be seen, perhaps all is well on the streets of London after all.
You are asked what it is to sense and remember, and while you question whether you can believe anything your mind tells you, being truly present in the moment starts to take on a greater significance. With all of the senses heightened thus, you are told to stand and to see. And see you do, as if for the first time, as the peculiar vibrancy of twilight rushes to meet the eyes. London stands before you in all its glory – a chiming Big Ben, the headlights of red buses coming into focus, oblivious pedestrians striding across the bridge and towards the end of their day – but frankly you could be on top of anywhere in the world and this feeling – the awesomeness of truly seeing – would be just as powerful. For this moment, despite the majestic backdrop, it matters not where you are, but that you are.
Then just as you start to feel comfortable in your own presence, the piece yet again sends you hurtling through existence into the imagined future. As a company that explores human connections and relationships, non zero gently coax honesty from the recesses of the mind, and the audience’s own emotionally disarming relevations stay with you long after the event. We are told to look into our future and say what we wish to see. This is not a moment of gratuitous interactivity, but a point in which we appraise the image our subconscious has confronted us with and whisper it from the rooftop into the ears of strangers in one achingly intimate moment.
In fact, for all the talk of this being a once-in-eternity experience, it’s only in the show’s dying moments that you’ll see [me sailing in antarctica] finally manages to transcend the anonymity and isolation inherent in the urban experience and make you all feel part of something shared, something very special indeed.