There is a line of microphones, all shapes and sizes, in a black room. A virtual blackboard “hangs” on the wall with the names of Socrates, Osama bin Laden, Goebbels, Muhammad Ali and other such mammoths of history. The dates of their speeches follow their names, and they span 2500 years. There is only one man on stage, and he attacks it all.
BigMouth is a simple idea taken to energetic heights. Speaking in German, French and English, Valentijn Dhaenens has given voice to the history of war. It is a common voice, no matter the language or the age, and it speaks of great power born out of fear and righteousness of religion and race.
Dhaenens juxtaposes wars and the egos of fools and kings in such a way that the present is not dependent on the past; there is no chronology. Rather, past and present intermingle with each other, they converse with one another, and it’s all so dangerously intimate, so eerily repetitive.
There is much focus on Belgium – the French, the Dutch, the Congo – but Dhaenens is from Belgium, so we don’t need to work too hard to uncover his motivation there. There is also much focus on America, and here I have to question if this is Dhaenens’ fixation, his specialised area of critique, or if it is a greater reflection on our society.
The best of art works to mix the intensions of the artist with some form of universal truth, and I think Dhaenens has done this to the best of his ability. And yes, he is very able. Moments of brilliance are not so much scattered as they are sustained. Especially clever is his looping of war songs and anthems to introduce new speeches, particularly a surprising “Smells like Teen Spirit” before a George W Bush montage.
This sort of thing might seem funny if it wasn’t so poignant, which is why I found it odd there was scattered laughter. What’s so funny about ignorance and murder? To each her own, but I at least found great unity in the fact that we all, as an audience, applauded so enthusiastically that Dhaenens had to come back twice.
The show has sold out in Europe and the UK and now it’s here in Australia, exclusive to the Adelaide Festival for what was a sell-out opening night. Buy tickets in advance and see it before it’s gone.
BigMouth, presented by Belgian theatre-makers SKaGeN is playing Queen’s Theatre, Playhouse Lane, until March 3.
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Click here for InDaily’s stories and reviews from the 2014 Adelaide Festival, including WOMADelaide and Adelaide Writers’ Week.