Theatre review: Masterclass, Loft Theatre

By Janet McAllister

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Valentijn Dhaenens delivers death theme in night of sometimes compelling theatre.
Valentijn Dhaenens cleverly recites snippets of  20 political speeches - with the help of microphones and glasses of water.
Valentijn Dhaenens cleverly recites snippets of 20 political speeches - with the help of microphones and glasses of water.

This excellent one-man show is not chatty or casual. Tight, dramatic spotlights focus sharply on the orator in the dark. With the help of five microphones and four glasses of water, Belgian chameleon Valentijn Dhaenens gives a masterclass in the delivery of persuasive rhetoric, with a side of melodious self-harmonising.

He delivers snippets of 20 political speeches; some liberties are taken but the names of the original speakers, 19 men and 1 woman, are scrawled above him in luminous radioactive green. The theme of sending people (mostly men) to their death, for punishment, country, freedom or glory echoes throughout, literally and figuratively. Oppressors oppress; civilisations clash. But the show's driving force is contrast; the speeches are cleverly curated to be mutually illuminating.

Dhaenens starts as one who condemns (the fictional Grand Inquisitor from Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov), and becomes one condemned (Nicola Sacco, controversially sent to the electric chair in 1927). In broken English, Sacco expresses his desire to live; in contrast, Dhaenens' Socrates goes to his execution eloquently rasping out defiance as if he's in a Godfather movie.

That Dhaenens isn't a native English speaker makes the feat all the more remarkable. His voice is silk when singing We'll meet again; all energetic growl for "Old Blood and Guts" Patton's crude gun-slinging; and smugly controlled for Goebbels' last stand.

Microphones make Dhaenens' voice echo, loop and simulate Jimi Hendrix's electric guitar (lighting and sound designer Jeroen Wuyts and tech assistant Saskia Lienard deserve special praise). One of Dhaenens' main targets - American hypocrisy - is easy of course, but his aural montage of presidential bluster, over an a capella bed of gunshot sounds and West Side Story - is more than recitation; it is compelling theatre.

Also intriguing are the snippets of Belgium's recent history. Far-right politician Frank Vanhecke is disturbingly smooth and charismatic. Satisfying and thought-provoking.


What: Bigmouth
Where & when: Loft, A Theatre; to Sunday

- NZ Herald

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