July 10, 2012 5:19 pm

You’ll see [me sailing in antarctica], National Theatre, London

Non zero one’s rooftop piece prompts its audience to question the nature of ‘experience’

Non Zero One “make interactive performances”. All live theatre assumes interaction between actors and audience; usually it is passive. This company invites active participation.

Gathering dusk. Nineteen of us are shown on to the roof of the National Theatre. Four performers describe where they will take us: a walkway to a platform with a round table and a helium balloon suspended overhead. We attach earpieces so we can communicate without shouting over the wind. It feels intimate and surreal. We all make eye contact, like an awkward meet-and-greet.

The performers dissect the idea of “experience”: one experience, scientists claim, takes three seconds – “one elephant, two elephant . . .”; experiences alter with time – re-imagined, recreated. What did we notice when we arrived? “The balloon wasn’t spherical”, “I saw the gravel . . .” Electronic music seeps into our headphones intermittently.

The aim is to “be in the present”. (The tone is nice, if faintly patronising.) Notice the now, they say. A man volunteers to dash around the NT building with a camera fastened to his head. He is briefed to absorb everything – an impossible task, because if he did his head would – “literally” – explode. Meanwhile, a performer exhorts us to focus on him – just him, mind you, nothing else, especially not the girl who sprints about with a huge sign which says . . . Back from his run, the volunteer, recounts his travels, which we compare with footage from the camera.

We visualise happy memories in sensual detail and voice them all together – “I’m playing cricket – my shoes are white . . .” Mellifluous murmurs and snippets from the memories of others. But do we create the details of our memories? Are we playwrights?

The platform revolves. Say what you see. “Four white cranes, Batman on a billboard . . .” We lean over the shiny tabletop to see how we look precisely now – now and never again. We picture ourselves dying, the movie flashback. Voices swell through speakers – all that we have said. Lights flash.

The approach is innovative and elements are interesting and picturesque. Other elements are gimmicky – the mad dash, for one. The story – as defined by a progression of “experiences” – is static and the argument – “live in the now” – is trite. Some may be uplifted. Others may cringe.

2 stars

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

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