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World Without Us review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘compelling’

World Without Us

Ontroerend Goed has reached the end. The end of us. The end of everything. It’s also the end of a trilogy of works by the Belgian company that started with 2012’s vast A History of Everything. Where that sprawled and scribbled its way across the birth of life and civilisation, World Without Us is a sombre and subdued fade to black.

Sole performer Valentijn Dhaenens, he of Bigmouth fame, who alternates the role with Karolien De Bleser, stalks a dark stage. The only feature is a monolithic black structure, like a lighthouse at the edge of the universe. Slowly, calmly, he narrates the story of the room the audience is sitting in after an unexplained event instantly vanishes the entire human population of earth.

Animals roam free, the electricity dies, planes fall from the sky and batteries slowly drain and die. We’re like the Traveller in HG Wells’ The Time Machine, watching the ravages of deep time corrode the world around us to dust.

The story is compelling, inventively written and implacably delivered. It plays a subtle game with sound, with presence and absence. Then its monochrome aesthetic breaks down in an unfortunate and even mawkish coda invoking Voyager and the tawdry legacy of all life on earth. It’s an underwhelming finale to such an epic trilogy, but then maybe that’s the point. Out with a whimper, not with a bang.

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Frustrating coda apart, this is an elegant and compelling monologue about the slow death of our world