Powerfully illustrating Emily Dickinson’s tenet “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word”, Valentijn Dhaenens’ touring Bigmouth is a medley of extracts from famous (or notorious) speeches which evoke mixed and sometimes surprising responses.
The SKaGeN (with Richard Jordan Productions) piece is swift (75 uninterrupted minutes), simple and stunning: a set consisting of a long table with glasses of water, a mixture of microphones and a blackboard, and the many faces of shape-shifting Dhaenens whose only costume changes are jacket open, buttoned or off. But we believe that this versatile performer is indeed the myriad orators – from Socrates and the Grand Inquisitor through the abdicating King of Belgium, Malcolm X and Mohammed Ali to JFK and Martin Luther King – charismatically warming the audience to the sometimes unacceptable.
And scattered between are chants and song loops voiced by Dhaenens and expertly mastered by Jeroen Wuyts.
Dhaenens’ mesmerising performance draws understanding for Osama Bin Laden’s reasoning for hatred of the USA; heartfelt sympathy for anarchist Niccola Sacco pleading for his life; interest in far right, anti-immigrant politics, and scorn for unplugged George Bush.
Clearly showing the power of words and passion of oration can obscure the unpalatable and win hearts, the fascinating juxtaposition of warmongering duo Goebbels and Patton speaking to the nation in their trademark fashions are indicative of how the same message can be quiet and inclusive so disguising the menace with reasonableness or aggressive and provocative. Superb.
My only criticism is the spelling and punctuation of the surtitles accompanying the foreign language speeches which seems somewhat nitpicking when the proficiency of Dhaenens’ foreign language performances is tremendous.