Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland

15/03/2016 - 20/03/2016

Auckland Arts Festival 2016

Production Details

Valentijn Dhaenens

In a nutshell:  
Blistering rhetoric / Toastmasters’ delight / Gobsmacking performance

an electrifying and transcendent piece of art – EXEUNT, Scotland

Take 2,500 years of oratory, five microphones and one-man multilingual powerhouse Valentijn Dhaenens and you have the theatrical loop-de-loop that is BigMouth.

Juxtaposing fragments of world-famous speeches of the kind that started wars and revolutions, excited hearts and minds and made listeners tremble, protest and guffaw, this virtuoso solo work has a cast of full-on movers and shakers.

From Goebbels to General Patton, from Socrates to the bumbling DubyaDhaenens shapeshifts, croons and loops his way through history, examining racism, justice and human vulnerability as he goes.

BigMouth exposes the biggest con of the talker’s trade – that the voices of good and evil are rhetorically indistinguishable, that talkers talk the same talk no matter the walk.

Whether you’re a history buff, a budding politician or you’ve just joined toastmasters, you’ll want to be lending us your ears for this sell-out hit of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Q Loft 
March 2016 
Tue 15 & Wed 16, 7:00pm 
Thu 17 & Fri 18, 8:30pm 
Sat 19, 2:00pm & 8:30pm  
Sun 20, 7:00pm 
1hr 20mins no interval 
$53 – $59

Post-show talk: Wednesday 16 March  

Theatre , Spoken word , Solo ,

80 mins

Masterclass from the chameleon

Review by Janet McAllister 19th Mar 2016

This excellent one-man show is not chatty or casual. Tight, dramatic spotlights focus sharply on the orator in the dark. With the help of five microphones and four glasses of water, Belgian chameleon Valentijn Dhaenens gives a masterclass in the delivery of persuasive rhetoric, with a side of melodious self-harmonising.

He delivers snippets of 20 political speeches; some liberties are taken but the names of the original speakers, 19 men and 1 woman, are scrawled above him in luminous radioactive green. The theme of sending people (mostly men) to their death, for punishment, country, freedom or glory echoes throughout, literally and figuratively. Oppressors oppress; civilisations clash. But the show’s driving force is contrast; the speeches are cleverly curated to be mutually illuminating. [More


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The Best Words

Review by Matt Baker 19th Mar 2016

Peter O’Toole once said that it is an actor’s job “to make the words flesh”. Bringing words to life requires both a studious and innate understanding of not only what they mean, but also what they can represent. Performed and directed by Valentijn Dhaenens, Big Mouth addresses addresses through history, and, in doing so within a prescribed time and space, provides its audience with the ability to see past the men and woman who said them, and truly listen to the words spoken.

The atmosphere provided by scenic, lighting, and sound designer Jeroen Wuyts begins rather cold and detached, allowing the audience to focus purely on Dhaenens’ words. When necessary, Wuyts draws us into the warmer, more intimate moments, without losing the overall presentational tone. [More


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Virtuoso voice artistry

Review by Raewyn Whyte 16th Mar 2016

Wearing a conservatively cut grey suit and standing in front of a long narrow black table bearing six microphones, virtuoso voice-artist Valentijn Dhaenens presents twenty or so examples of oratory that changed the course of history. Working his way chronologically from 400BC to 2011, he juxtaposes samples of speech, and occasionally songs, from an array of historic figures, shifting tone of voice, accents and languages to match the original persona and the occasion of the speech.

He presents, among his array, Socrates (339 BC) delivering his final defence to a jury of Athenian citizens, knowing they would sentence him to death by drinking hemlock; King Baudouin of the Belgians (1990, abdicating his position rather than approve the passing of a law permitting abortion; Louis Farrakhan in his State of the Black Union speech (2005), on the promises, lies and deceptions of the American government to the American people and especially those directed to African Americans; and Italian anarchist Nicola Sacco (1927) addressing the judge at his trial for murder.

The rhetorical structures and ploys common to most of Dhaenens’ samples are straightforward — words are quietly spoken, whispered or shouted. Open-ended questions are asked, or questions asked and answered. Key words and phrases are repeated with increasing emphasis. Situations are described to arouse strong emotion; and hyperbole, misrepresentation, irony, metaphor, and ad hominem attacks are all used to help persuade listeners of the reasonableness of the appeals being delivered.

By alternating samples from 1944 World War 2 speeches by Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels to the German people, and General George Patton to the American troops of the Third Army, Dhaenens provides strong contrasts of two charismatic speechmakers considered to be very effective at their jobs. Goebbels is quietly spoken and sneeringly rational in delivering a series of statements which condemn personal indulgences and luxury goods and services as necessary sacrifices towards financing more troops and armaments to repel the onslaught of the enemy in all out total war. Patton is bombastic, loud and hectoring, with a redneck edge to his vitriolic vulgarity designed to rouse his largely inexperienced troops to aggressively self-sacrificing acts of slaughter against the German foes.

Between samples, Dhaenens rearranges his clothing, adjusts hair and face to suit, drinks water to modulate his voice, and moves to the particular microphone whose auditory qualities are best suited to conjure up the original scene for the address.  For Goebbels we have live radio broadcast from a huge stadium; for Osama Bin Laden, video material recorded in a bunker on lower quality equipment, for placing on the internet. Courtroom-type microphones deliver the speeches of judges and defendants; and an array of radio and tv recorded clips appear in collages.

Dhaenens also makes excellent use loops and layers which he sets ups as he goes, and his gentle singing over these other sounds brings us Kurt Cobain’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and ‘America’ from West Side Story, as examples of songs which have been significant to particular generations. The ‘America’ song, for example, is a central element of a collage section of America in the 60s, with characteristic snatches of speeches or songs from Robert Kennedy, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra,.Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali.

The 80-minute performance is obviously well-researched and cleverly arranged to ensure the pace and changes of theme and direction nevertheless keep the audience entranced and attentive. Regardless of your reactions to any particular section, you have to admire Dhanens’ astonishing facility for impersonating the many orators — his Patrice Lumumba for example eerily conjured up the ghost of that Congolese politician — and his polished delivery of the very discordant texts.

Clearly, his selection of texts acknowledges the power of words and the advantage which particular people may take in using those words to change the lives of others. And perhaps that is significant enough as a timely warning with the looming potential of Trump as a Republican American President and the apparent impossibility of reducing global warming.


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