Imagine you’re at the usual flat party. All the action is either in the kitchen or the corridor but let’s ignore the kitchen for now and its tempting food. Instead, let’s walk down and past a number of interesting folk all saying interesting things.
That’s the famous Kennedy brothers (John and Robert) over there, and, next to them Martin Luther King. Presidents Bush (father and son) are here too, as well as their arch-nemesis Osama Bin Laden. Further away, there are some a cappella refrains of a very familiar tune…
This isn’t some crazy cheese-fuelled dream but some idea of what to expect from the frankly brilliant show Bigmouth. Solo performer Valentijn Dhaenens stands behind – and occasionally on – a broad desk with five microphones walking between them to assume different personas across a broad swathe of history and geography. Technically, the Belgian can stand tall besides the likes of impersonators Rory Bremner and Jon Culshaw.
Don’t go expecting a chucklefest,though. There are a few laughs at the expense of the more ridiculous characters but Bigmouth's real power comes here from its séance-like atmosphere as Dhaenens raises from the dead long-gone master orators. Pericles’ funeral speech resounds across the millennia while the words of King and Malcom X scintillate as they echo modern struggles by all hues of oppressed folk.
The bluster of Muhammed Ali and Louis Farrakhan are captured perfectly, two men united by colour and boundless self-belief but with very different messages. There’s music too as Dhaenens cranks up the Loopstation and puts his mesmeric voice to use reconstituting Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit from a cappella snatches.
Whatever you do, don’t be late. Arguably the most powerful part of the evening happens at the very beginning of this 80 minute show. In his only two-hander, Dhaenens re-creates the speeches of wartime leaders Joseph Goebbels and George S Patton. The contrast between the Nazi and the general is a moving contrast of fire and ice; the former’s speech is delivered in its original even-toned German while his warrior counterpart is a thunderous firehose.
These nuanced insights into past demagogues and personalities should be recorded and made a mandatory element of every history lesson. Are you listening Michael Gove?
Bigmouth is at the Soho Theatre until 13 July. Londonist attended on a press ticket.