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Friday, June 14, 2024

Theatre review: World Without Us is a group thought experiment

A masterful lecture with theatrical flourishes, much of the experience exists in our minds

In World Without Us, Ontroerend Goed, creators of Fight Night, offers a emotionless essay on just what the world would look like, well, without us. At times drawn out, at others heart-chillingly poignant, it is a monologue that pulls you along with it, even when our presence no longer matters.

World Without Us begins with a recording of world greetings. The voices ring out in the darkness as the audience waits for something to occur. And it is that sense of waiting that forms the backbone of the show.

The monologue apes a lecture, at times spoken, at times pre-recorded. The pace is relentlessly methodical, offering no emotional entry into the monologue. This distance reinforces the premise, but limits the connection of the piece to a purely mental realm.

While the show begins from the present, it propels itself into a far flung future with the emotionless curiosity of a robot, allowing us only the respite of the surviving Voyager spacecraft hurtling its way through the eternal darkness in spite of us.

Monologist Karolien De Bleser is the perfect captain on this voyage through space and time. Dressed in black, every movement is measured, every word given time and space. She grounds the piece in her matter of fact delivery, with a warmth that feels genuine, even as she leaves us to the darkness and her own recording.

Renato Nicolodi’s scenography is simple, a pillar sketch of a building on which Benny Vandendriessche’s video projections bounce and play. The shifting lighting by Babette Poncelet offers an effective allegory to the passage of time while creating a sense of changing sets on an otherwise bare stage.

World Without Us is a masterful lecture with theatrical flourishes. It drags on due to the lack of an emotional core but supports its intent with an impressive mental “what if?”.

While the writing is wonderful, the actual experience exists mostly in your mind. That is the point. World Without Us is not visceral. It is a group thought-experiment. See it if your mind likes a workout.

World Without Us. By Alexander Devriendt, Valentijn Dhaenens, Karolien De Bleser, and Joeri Smet. Co-produced by Ontroerend Goed, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Richard Jordan Productions, Vooruit, in association with Big in Belgium and Summerhall. On stage at The Cultch Historic Theatre (1895 Venables St, Vancouver) until April 29. Tickets and more information can be found at

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