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Unsung review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘wonderfully elastic performance’

Valentijn Dhaenens in Unsung at Summerhall, Edinburgh Valentijn Dhaenens in Unsung at Summerhall, Edinburgh

In 2012, the elasti-lipped Valentijn Dhaenens made a splash with Bigmouth, a mash-up of historical oratory and a tour de force of stage performance.

He was adept at capturing rhetorical power, while also skewering clumsy and careless political language. In his new show, Unsung, he uses a similar collage technique to explore the tactics and mind-set of the career politician, stitching together words from everyone from Jacques Chirac to Hillary Clinton.

Wearing an anonymous blue suit, Dhaenens speaks at length while saying very little. He talks in jargon and stock phrases, avoiding specificity at all costs. There’s very little solidity to anything he says. He intersperses these podium moments with phone calls to the wife and kids he hasn’t seen in weeks and more intimate video calls to his lover. The isolating lifestyle of the campaigning politician, forever on the road, cut off from the reality of voters’ lives, is laid bare.

Politics and policy play second fiddle to persona. We never find out what his party stands for. His switches between a puffed-up Trump, a slick Sarkozy, a confident Kennedy. An unseen adviser tells him when to relax his body language and roll up his sleeves.

Dhaenens is a performer of exceptional vocal dexterity and precision, with astonishingly plastic features. But the form of the show, its embrace of un-talk and campaign speak, creates a hollow at its heart.

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Wonderfully elastic performance exploring the hollowness at the heart of political campaigning