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Review of World Without Us at Battersea Arts Centre

World Without Us - Credi Mirjam Devriendt
World Without Us – Credi Mirjam Devriendt

As a geographer I am fascinated by the world. I love learning about both the workings of the physical world and the complexities of the human world, but it has always been the crossover between the two, the ways in which the two worlds interact and influence each other that has captured my imagination. Enter A World Without Us – what happens to the physical world when humans disappear?

This was more of a dramatised lecture than a play. Valentijn Dhaenens was an excellent speaker, pausing in the right places and adding just the right amount of humour to keep it serious without being boring, and the lighting, which involved a lot of blackouts added a lot of atmosphere. As we were taken through what would happen to the very spot we were sitting in if all humans disappeared, it felt a bit like a TED talk without the academic rigour. 

So what would happen if the humans inexplicable disappeared (for the sudden disappearance was never explained)? The conclusion, I don’t honestly know. At points, the play appeared to hit the nail right on the head. For example, the idea that humans will do anything to preserve their memories – specific instructions in wills, time capsules, even a message in a space station millions of light years away from US president Jimmy Carter – really resonated. Additionally some of the discussion on the human influences which remain long after humans have gone – the black boxes from planes that continue to emit signals, the granite worktops which do not degrade over time, the electrical appliances which cause havoc, even when humans aren’t using them – was thought-provoking, leading me to consider the ethics of human influences on the world when so much of what we leave behind changes nature irreversibly. 

On the other hand, there were times where I just didn’t know the point the show was trying to make. It sounded more like the drunken ramblings of someone trying to make a point which they never quite articulate. At times I struggled to follow the thread of the show, the narrative simply wasn’t clear. Add to that the fact that I didn’t really understand how the changes discussed were likely to happen, I wanted to know the details, why will mountains start appearing? (After all, I’ve studied mountain formation and I think it’s unlikely to happen in Battersea), why will all the water disappear? When styling a show like an academic lecture, I believe that you need to introduce the content to match, and for me, that was what was missing. 

The show finished with a slideshow of images set to music which were recorded on the space station mentioned earlier. This was interesting and here was where I learned the most – what humans considered as important and worth preserving was fascinating. However, the set got in the way of the images, a column in the middle of the stage distorting the photos and diagrams. 

Ultimately I had an enjoyable evening, I came away feeling like I had learned something which is always a
positive experience, but I just didn’t quite get the point. Was this a play about the futility of human existence? The power of nature over people? Or was it the opposite, a play about the long-lasting impacts we are having on our planet? The truth is I just don’t know.

3 Star Review

Review by Emily Diver

We could hardly imagine it: no mortgages, no knitting scarves, no swimming pools, no butterfly strokes and no more honey kept in glass bowls. Animals would no longer be stuffed, skyscrapers no longer be built, no more suicide and no mathematics. There would be no more talk about the old days, about what’s possible. There would be no more words.
We could hardly imagine it. It would never happen. We’d find a solution. A world without us. 

Performed by Valentijn Dhaenens
Director: Alexander Devriendt

Text: Alexander Devriendt, Valentijn Dhaenens, Karolien De Bleser & Joeri Smet
Scenography: Renato Nicolodi / Execution Scenography: Vormen
Technique: Jeroen Wuyts (Sound Editing) & Babette Poncelet (Lighting Design)

Video Editing: Benny Vandendriessche
Costumes: Rewind Black
Created with the support of the Flemish Government and the City of Ghent

World Without Us
Ontroerend Goed | 3 – 12 May
Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, SW11 5TN


  • Emily Gami

    I am a 25 year old Geography teacher who really loves the theatre. I first fell in love with the theatre when I was 15 and since moving to London 4 years ago I have tried to see as many shows as possible. On the rare occasions I am not at work or at the theatre I can usually be found on a tennis court or curled up somewhere with a good book

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