Bigmouth: A One-Man Mashup of the Words of History

Valentijn Dhaenens performs Bigmouth (Photo: Maya Wilsens)

Valentijn Dhaenens performs Bigmouth (Photo: Maya Wilsens)

Here’s a guest post from reporter Katie Bilboa…

The show “Bigmouth” doesn’t exactly feel like the theatrical experience of a lifetime. It’s just 80 minutes of one man talking to you, reading out bits of old speeches.

All real American men love the clash and sting of battle. American men love a winner. – General George S. Patten

But when Steve Marmion saw Bigmouth in Edinburgh last year he knew he had to get it on his stage.

Marmion is artistic director of the edgy Soho Theatre in London’s west end.

“It’s an incredible one man trip through rhetoric beginning 500 BC and finishing today,” he says. “And it explores, examines, and really takes by the scruff of the neck and sings in your face”

Bigmouth is Belgian artist Valentijn Dhaenens.

On stage he wears a suit and darts between five different microphones arranged left to right on a table that stretches the width of the space. As he switches microphones, he subtly adjusts his outfit, gestures and expressions to take on different personas from different centuries.

He transitions from Socrates to Martin Luter King- by way of Joseph Goebbels and the words of Osama Bin Laden.

The events that affected my soul in a direct way started in 1982 when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon. – Osama Bin Laden

Valentijn – an established actor in Belgium and the Netherlands – began the project by setting himself the task of reading one speech a day for a year.

“I’ve always been amazed by the fact that only words or language, a thing that you produce with your mouth–we’re the only animals that can do it–can have this much power,” says Valentijn. “If the climate is right and people have the urge to follow leaders and stuff, you can move the world history in a certain direction.”

He says choosing which speeches to include in his performance was an intuitive process. He just knew what needed to sit where.

This intuitive arrangement is integral to Bigmouth’s success, says Lyn Gardner, a theatre critic for The Guardian newspaper.

“One of the reasons why it really works is because of the way that it actually allows one speech to interrogate another,” she says. “So it feels as though what you’re watching is a constant surprise by the way that there is a dialogue set up between the past and the present.”

Valentijin says it’s all about mixing.

“From my point of view I am manipulating again the speeches, like the media is manipulating them, so I just mix two speeches together,” he says. “Some speeches are not in it, not because they’re not good but because they’re not theatrical.”

President Obama is one notable absence.

And there’s only one woman: Ann Coulter.

Valentijn says he needed some distance from the voices he chose, and that the absence of women speaks volumes about how hard it was to find them.

Still, audiences and critics here in London and across the UK have given Bigmouth rave reviews.

And on the heels of that success, there are now plans to take it to Australia, and the US.



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