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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Theatre review: A Brief History of Human Extinction is a unique collaboration

Puppets, projections & actors come together in this apocalyptic story

A Brief History of Human Extinction offers a unique experience, including puppets, live projections, and actors. It is all brought together in a collaboration between Mind of a Snail Co., Vancouver’s Upintheair Theatre, and playwright Jordan Hall.

In A Brief History of Human Extinction, we enter a scientific facility where the last two humans (and otter) remaining on the planet are preparing to carry the planet’s legacy forward in the Ark, a ship soon to be launched into the ether. We soon come to see how things fall apart when something outside the facility threatens to come inside.

Lisa Cooke Ravensburgen and Daniel Martin play the last two humans alive with great skill. Martin’s performance is funny and endearing. His love of his other half is cute and provides many laughs. Ravenburgen is sincere and serious, though some of the longer monologues feel a little long. Both Martin and Ravensburgen have a couple of moments that seem over-dramatized.

Jessica Gabriel and Chloé Ziner from Mind of a Snail, provide the projections, adding another level of creativity and humour to the production. There are hilarious moments where the DIY nature of the projections are accentuated, and are often charming and ingenious.

Surprisingly enough, a major character in the show is Ommie the otter. The puppet is skillfully crafted and the opening image of Ommie in the tank is striking. It is easy to form a connection to this cute creature, but when he transforms and starts walking onstage and speaking, this feels jarring and distancing.

The set created by Jerguš Opršal, with cracked green-tinted walls and a tank for the otter, is simple but effective in creating the apocalyptic sci-fi feel of the piece.

Billed as a “comic sci-fi thriller”, A Brief History of Human Extinction falls more on the dramatic side. While there are moments of comedy, it often feels too serious, and too real, to laugh at.

I do wonder what this production adds to the conversation about the environment. It is easy to agree that humans can be “mean, murdery monkeys” (and funny to hear it described this way), but there are times where this production feels like it is telling us what we already know about the devastating state of our planet. It is hard to know what to feel, but maybe that is the point.

With its unique collaboration and skilled performances from actors and puppeteers alike, A Brief History of Human Extinction is well worth taking in. We’re told this is “the last adventure anyone will ever have”, so you should make sure you are there.

A Brief History of Human Extinction by Jordan Hall. Directed by Tamara McCarthy. An Upintheair Theatre production in collaboration with Mind of a Snail Co. at The Cultch Historic Theatre (1895 Venables Street, Vancouver) through October 20th. Visit for tickets and information.

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