World Without Us

Theatre, Contemporary theatre
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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World Without Us

A poignant meditation on the end of humanity from Ontroerend Goed

Belgian theatre company Ontroered Goed made their name at the Fringe the best part of a decade ago with a series of wildly provocative interactive shows that earned them first praise, then a certain degree of suspicion. 

This, combined with their furious pace of working (there’s almost always a new show annually) has seen them slightly drift away from ones-to-watch festival lists: they’re still a big draw, but it’s easy to underestimate them.

I certainly have, because I really loved this gentle, elegiac monologue delivered by performer Valentijn Dhaenens. There seems to have been a number of shows imagining the end of humanity at the Fringe this year, but ‘World Without Us’ does so in a hushed, graceful, almost wonder-filled way. 

Something has happened to the human race: it has simply disappeared, en masse, mid sentence. It would, indeed appear, that we (or another audience) vanished during a show in this very room, leaving all our stuff behind: snacks that a rat eats; mobile phones that live out the last of their battery lives. High up above, suddenly empty planes drift around the globe on the last of their fuel.

The monologue takes us through the minutes and hours after the vanishing, on into the far future, as nature reclaims the building, then ultimately obliterates it; further on, though evolutions and cataclysms and epochs until the dying Sun swallows the Earth whole, and the only remaining trace of humanity is the Voyager 1 space probe, drifting powerless through infinity. 

I can see that you might object to the show as sluggish, po-faced, even simplistic, but it really got to me, not because it was disturbing, but because of its beauty – both the poetry in its description of the minutiae of the failing artificial world, but also its wonderment at a world freed from civilisation’s rules and order and inevitabilities. Humanity is unlikely to vanish overnight. But we will all die, and our species will surely be gone by the end of the world. This elegiac but strangely exhilarating show sees the romance in that. 

By: Andrzej Lukowski

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