World Without Us: A thought experiment that provides a fresh perspective on humanity

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World Without Us | Ontroerend Goed, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Vooruit, Richard Jordan Productions in association with Summerhall and Big in Belgium | The Cultch | April 17 – 29, 2018

What would happen if humans suddenly disappeared from the face of the Earth all at once? How long would the lights stay on; how long would the aircraft continue on autopilot? It’s an interesting thought experiment and an ambitious premise for a piece of theatre. Having thoroughly enjoyed Ontroerend Goed’s intelligent, political, and highly engaging Fight Night, I had high hopes for this show. But it fell flat.

 

We were greeted in many languages off the top of the show, waiting for someone to take the stage. Karolien De Bleser began telling the specific, precisely thought through story of the minutes, hours, days and years following the mass exodus of humankind from the planet. She described the airplane that continues to fly around the world until it runs out of fuel, the rats and cockroaches in the very theatre we were seated in who finally live without fear, and the forests that begin to encroach on the city and take over.

In this new, animal-dominated world, time has no meaning and life goes on. From the unique perspective of someone witnessing the end of humanity, we listened as De Bleser described the details of the unrecognizable world, the crumbling walls of the theatre, and the raging fires that break out in the city. The content was interesting, if at times a bit too detailed and bland, but it could have used an infusion of humour to add some depth and variation in the tone.

While it is an interesting thought experiment to imagine what the world would be like without us and all the changes that would take place and over what time frame, it seemed to take a very long time to arrive at the main attraction which was reviewing the contents of the Golden Record that NASA sent into space on Voyager as a time capsule of human life. It would have been even better if there wasn’t a large unexplained prop obstructing the view of the projected images.

Coming full circle, it was clear that the greetings that started the show off also formed part of the contents of the Golden Record. Watching this snapshot of humanity after imagining the world without us gave it new significance as we viewed it with the perspective of an outsider. If this record ever reaches other advanced life forms, what will they make of us?

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