Director: Alexander Devriendt
Text: Alexander Devriendt, Valentijn Dhaenens, Karolien De Bleser, Joeri Smet
Reviewer: Joseph Leigh
Imagine you are sitting in an audience, waiting for a performance to begin. The lights drop, audio and projections play, and a performer walks on stage. You listen to the dialogue and drink in the lighting, set and costume. Rustling your programme almost imperceptibly, you settle into your seat and allow yourself to become absorbed into the action.
Suddenly the world as humanity knows it is over.
This is the premise of World Without Us, a tantalising thought experiment and exploration of what would happen to this planet following the sudden disappearance of human life from the face of the earth. World Without Us is not an apocalyptic tale of the end of civilisation, with the cause of humanity’s sudden oblivion simply set aside and taken as read. By quickly and efficiently establishing this fact, this single-handed performance is able to focus on its real subject matter; how does humanity’s existence shape and impact on the fate of our world?
From the obvious physical results, such as the degradation of our infrastructure in the absence of anyone to maintain it, to the philosophical questions surrounding human experiences and concepts such as time and beauty, World Without Us explores broad subject matter with an impressive ease and assurance that is at once entrancing and unsettling. As the audience observes the degradation of the theatre around them through the eyes of the performer, Karolien De Bleser, time beings to accelerate and the passing of centuries takes place in mere seconds. Through considering this strange yet familiar world, De Bleser points out that these observations cannot be true as there are no humans left to make them. This device is an extremely refreshing mental ‘palette cleanser’ that enables this production to consider the impact of humanity with truly neutral eyes. The good and bad, the peaks and troughs of the human race’s accomplishments are laid bare and evaluated in an honest light. Because, as World Without Us highlights, nothing is permanent.
De Bleser’s performance is masterfully understated and she demonstrates an impressive control of her physicality and voice to manipulate subtly the audience’s experience of this unsettling world. De Bleser is also able to interact effortlessly with the production’s impressive yet subtle use of lighting and voiceover to create the otherworldly, ethereal reality of the piece that is so vital to its effect. Her miming of her own voice recording is particularly impressive, as the recording takes over half way through the live performance with such fluidity that it takes some time to realise that there has even been a switch in audio source.
Technically, this production utilises a relatively limited array of lights, sounds, and projections to great effect, with darkness being used as an exceptionally powerful device not only to set the scene but also heighten the audience’s senses. The sole set piece, an impressive tower that dominates the stage, is subtly lit throughout to reveal its various facets or obscure its detail behind an obelisk of shadow. De Bleser works with this unusual set with confidence and ease, as well as utilising the lighting to enhance her own physical presence.
The opening of the production does, however, lacks tempo, and the entrance of De Bleser feels about 30 seconds later than it needed to be. While this is undoubtedly a device to focus the audience’s minds on the projections and audio while establishing a sense of otherworldliness that acts as a foundation for the piece, it does cause the audience’s attention to drift and makes De Bleser’s job of engaging us upon entry to the space that little bit harder.
That said, this truly is an excellent production that provokes thought and post-show discussion without ramming an idea of philosophy down the audience’s throat. Well worth a watch.
Runs until 26 November 2016 | Image: Mirjam Devriendt