World Without Us at Battersea Arts Centre
Belgian production company Ontroerend Goed’s World Without Us is a humble, meditative exploration of our planet when all human life has ceased to exist.
Following a welcoming in a selection of 55 different languages and dialects, sole performer Valentijn Dhaenens weaves his monologue through space and time, initially breaking the fourth wall, describing the shuffles and noises made by the audience and the objects used to make up the set. After several minutes pass, spectators may think the restful narrative will soon come to an end, but it does not, until the very last. As observers are plunged into the dark, including a ten-minute blackout, we are informed in minutiae of the after effects of a catastrophe that has wiped out all human life. Dhaenens describes in gory detail a rat’s death and decomposition – a natural occurrence but not the most pleasant – and the demise of a plane’s passengers. It is these dark citations that keep us hoping for some light in such a bleak post-apocalyptic world, yet the narrative continues on its gloomy future predictions, philosophical but unrelenting.
World Without Us aims to provoke not to please. Planes are falling from the skies, batteries running out of juice, and the sun eventually engulfs Earth with its extreme solar power. These images create a sense of impending doom, and with Dhaenens’s gentle voice warning us of the effects of climate change it shakes one’s normal way of thinking – how the majority of us go about our daily routines, without thinking twice.
Ultimately, this is a poignant piece, but the lack of music, movement and additional characters, combined with a modest production, make for a performance that is slightly too glum; a few theatregoers left mid-way. The pacing renders one restless and it is difficult to sustain intrigue in this 90-minute monologue, which perhaps would have worked better as a short story, rather than a stagnant stage production.
Photo: Mirjam Devriendt
World Without Us is at Battersea Arts Centre from 3rd until 12th May 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.