Mirvish celebrates famous orators in Bigmouth on stage at the Panasonic in Toronto
Belgian actor Valentijn Dhaenens is currently taking over the stage at the Panasonic Theatre to deliver the most unique one-man show you’re likely to see in Bigmouth. This show, celebrating famous speeches through the ages and the people who delivered them, was a huge success in Edinburgh and has received great acclaim across the globe. It now makes its debut in Toronto.
The beauty of this show is that Dhaenens not only recreates the famous speech, he embodies the person making it. His tonality, timbre, and body language are matched to the individual speaker, making for an entrancing show. I only wish there was more to it.
There’s a lot of history in the world and with that, a lot of famous speakers. The poster artwork for Bigmouth is evidence of that: a photo of Dhaenens’ twisted face superimposed on images of various historical figures including Mussolini, Mahatma Ghandi, Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John Paul II, Chairman Mao, and Stalin. Looking at these images alone sent my mind whirling with all the possibilities of what this performance could include.
Inside the theatre, the stage is minimal — a long table with a series of microphones. Above is a board with a listing of names and dates, clearly the series of speeches Dhaenens will be working through. I was hoping there would be more; although the list is definitely intriguing, it’s not as varied as I had hoped. On the list were a lot of Americans, including quite a few presidents, influential Americans like Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, and figures who affected America like Osama Bin Laden. There was one female, Ann Coulter.
Dhaenens’ delivery of the speeches and his portrayal of the speakers is something that truly needs to be witnessed to appreciate. It’s mesmeric and eerie. His voice changes — it literally sounds different. His composure, his posture, his mannerisms, his animated face, all morph to fit the speeches.
His decision to blend Joseph Goebbels’ “Totaler Krieg” speech seamlessly with George S. Patton’s “Speech to the Third Army”, two very similar call-to-war speeches delivered to a crowd of very similar people in two distinctively different ways, is quite chilling, as I also found his speech as Osama Bin Laden to be. I found Dhaenens’ choice to deliver the Pericles speech in French an interesting choice and I was deeply moved by his fervor in his delivery of Patrice Lumumba’s “Congolese Independence Speech“.
My friend Anthony, my show companion and fellow history buff, was also thoroughly impressed by Dhaenens’ inclusion of the sentencing speech of Nicola Sacco and Louis Farrakhan’s speech. When Dhaenens dove into the good ole U S of A, it became a complete medley with bits and pieces of speeches from JFK, Reagan, Bush Sr and Bush Jr, Mohammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Yes, there are some fantastic speeches in there and some of them I wish I could’ve heard more of rather than just snippets. But as it was, the focal point was very America-centric.
The run time for this show is 85 minutes and it left both of us wanting more — more global appeal, more varied speeches, more famous orators throughout history, more women. Dhaenens said during his post-show talk that he didn’t feel comfortable including many women as taking on their words as a man wouldn’t seem right. I feel he could have done justice to the speech itself without having to do too much to mimic a woman.
In my opinion, this show has potential to build different versions, or it could have used some editing for variation before its final run. As is, though, Bigmouth is still quite impressive.
- Bigmouth is playing at the Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge St) until February 7, 2016.
- Show times are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 pm with weekend matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.
- Tickets range from $39 – $89 and can be purchased online or by calling (416) 872-1212.
- Audience advisory: Coarse language. Recommended for audiences ages 14+.
Photo of Valentijn Dhaenens by Maya Wilsens