SKaGeN @ Queen’s Theatre
8:00pm, Thu 27 Feb 2014
The buildup to the 2014 Festival had been a little… uneven for me; for all the (profane) joy expressed when Roman Tragedies and the John Zorn shows were announced, the launch of the full programme had left me… well, a little underwhelmed. Sure, Am I looked interesting (wait until I write that post!), and I was keen on Sadeh21, but the rest – while most certainly not yawn-worthy – didn’t get me super-excited.
Of course, the Zorn pre-announcement was a tough act to follow, but I had still expected to feel a bit more giddy.
Still, there were more than a handful of people who’d expressed their interest in BigMouth, and there was no problem getting an opening night ticket… so I find myself checking out the lovely new bar at the Queen’s Theatre and chatting with Ashton before we’re let in to discover the delights of the pyramidical sponge “cushions” on the temporary seating. Hey, I thought that the cushions were great, unfamiliar shapes niggling one’s posterior during the evening… but others were scathing.
No matter: I was ready for the first Festival show of 2014.
The staging was sparse: a wide table with five microphones. A “blackboard” with a series of (some famous, some not-so-famous) names projected onto it. That’s it.
But the monologue that Valentijn Dhaenens managed to create with those names, and deliver with those microphones, was absolutely compelling.
Dhaenens had spent over a year reading over a thousand speeches, and – in a tribute to the significance of oration – constructed BigMouth. Each name on the “blackboard” represented the original orator of a speech, and Dhaenens presented each with considered intonations, more often than not in their original language (the surtitles, it must be said, were excellent). At the conclusion of each of the speeches, the name of the original orator was rubbed off the “blackboard”: this, in itself, was a wonderful touch, with the tension and expectation rising as we hurtled through the performance… there were even a few audible gasps as the erased name revealed the orator, with Osama Bin Laden’s words being juxtaposed against those of George W Bush.
Some of the speeches were immediately recognisable, others curious; sometimes Dhaenens even revelled in beatbox-esque musical renditions. But two moments really stand out in my memory: the middle third was a magnificent loop-driven monster, which saw us battered with a myriad of speeches being delivered in rapid succession to the constructed backbeat; and the constant back’n’forth between speeches from Goebbels and Patton was nothing less than painfully exhilarating. By carefully crafting the tone of delivery, Dhaenens made Patton sound like a megalomaniacal arsehole throughout, with softer, more considered words encouraging empathy for Goebbels… until, quite literally, his final three words, the brutal rage of which turned everything on its head.
I left BigMouth absolutely thrilled. I had walked into the theatre not really knowing what to expect, but what I found was a masterfully crafted piece of theatre that, despite the heavy political content, never felt preachy or superior… more calm, contemplative, open. The words alone were enough to encourage thought far into the night; the presentation was just the icing on the cake.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) February 28, 2014