Bigmouth - Theatre Review

By: Paul Lewkowicz

Bigmouth is a unique and entertaining show, starring Belgian actor, Valentijn Dhaenens. The one man show has reached worldwide audiences everywhere from Edinburgh to Mumbai and it is currently playing here in Toronto for a three-week run. 

Dhaenens appears on a stage set with six different microphones and a blackboard suspended above him noting 20 names of key historical figures. He takes us on a journey of history by reenacting famous speeches of a variety of political leaders and villains. The diverse range of figures include Socrates from the times before Christ to more contemporary figures such as Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush. 

The show starts with a strong speech from the Grand Inquisitor, amplified to emphasize its delivery to a large crowd. Throughout the show, Dhaenens moves seamlessly from character to character, even doing back-and-forth speeches between Joseph Goebbels and George Patton. The contrast between the Goebbels/Patton speeches is quite remarkable. As Goebbels, Dhaenens is authoritative, calm and intense. As Patton, he is fervent and overzealous, both vocally and physically. It is impressive how Dhaenens is able to perform such a wide range of speeches in such a short time, which are full of a historical significance and emotion. He is able to embrace each unique character and move very quickly between different speeches. Dhaenens understands that words have the ability to mobilize and manipulate the masses and shows us just how excellent communicators were able to achieve this. 

Dhaenens is at his best when portraying speeches from the Belgian King Baudouin and Congolese independence fighter Lumumba. Ironically, Dhaenens reveals after the show that Lumumba was emotionally the most difficult speech for him, due to knowing that the historical figure would be killed shortly after the delivery of his famous speech. 

Dhaenens seemed to struggle with portraying some of the American leaders, whose speeches were clustered in the latter half of his show. Although he gave a great deal of time to reenact powerful speeches from the Grand Inquisitor, Goebbels/Patton and Lumumba, Dhaenens only gave a minute or less to famous figures such as Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and Muhammad Ali. This left me wanting for more and wishing that Dhaenens had taken more time to capture some of the most famous and memorable speeches such as “I have a dream”, “Ask not what your country can do” and “How great I am”. He could have also better captured the humour and demeanour of George W. Bush and his father. 

Dhaenens reminds us that the power of speech is never to be underestimated, as they can and do alter the course of history forever. Bigmouth is definitely a show worth seeing and Dhaenens should be commended for his unique and powerful performances, as he delivers them with great emotion, intonation and conviction. 

Bigmouth plays at the Panasonic Theatre until February 7, 2016.

Photo: Maya Wilsens