The History of the World Based on Banalities

★★★
theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 11 Aug 2015

Everything is mostly made up of nothing. Matter is mostly space and history is hardly ever momentous. Our lives aren’t so much a list of achievements as the bits in between. The boring bits. The banalities.

This rambling piece from Belgium’s Kopergietery, a youth-centric arts centre, turns the whole world upside down, tugging at accepted certainties and exposing the accidents and contingencies that have come to shape our world. What if Newton hadn’t spotted that apple? What if Percy Spencer hadn’t happened on microwaves?

Titus De Voogdt stands in a messy kitchen. His mother’s upstairs in bed, her mind being gradually eroded by Alzheimer’s disease. She was once a celebrated scientist, who spent many years smashing particles together at CERN. Now her life’s work is falling out of her head. “Every dying individual,” says De Voogdt, “is a museum that burns down.”

But De Voogdt and his co-creator Johan De Smet are interested in the other direction: the way things are built up, the chance meetings and discoveries that become the through line of history. It’s a show that knocks science into magic and wonders why we prize brains over bodies, thinking over dancing.

Better as thinking than as theatre, it’s a shambling, roundabout show – undoubtedly smart, but too baggy by half. It takes time for the strands of thinking to tie together and there’s not much to feel on the way. When it coheres though, when ideas crash together like particles, it’s magic.