Having performed alone on the stages of the world for well over seven thousand times, Pieter-Dirk Uys has learnt that every show is the first and the last performance – because each audience demands and gets a different energy, topicality and excitement. Now in his 71st year, he doesn’t glance back at the successes and failures that have strengthened his belief in a constant improvement of his work, but at those small signposts that throughout his life subconsciously have pointed him in a right and original direction – his father Hannes Uys, his mother Helga Bassel, his grandmothers, his teachers, his passions; Sophia Loren, censorship, false eyelashes and making a noise when everyone demanded silence.
South Africa’s foremost satirist sits on a barstool, wearing his black beanie on his head and his Almost Famous sweatshirt, and with his impish smile, he even looks like a naughty goblin trapped by the spotlight. Within minutes he fills the auditorium with his presence. This is just Pieter-Dirk Uys speaking and he opens his heart and talks about his private and public life. The big hair and silky repartee of Evita Bezuidenhout or the smoky drone of the sexy Bambi Kellermann have been stored elsewhere for some other time. It soon becomes clear that the title of his autobiographical one-man memoir, The Echo of a Noise, doesn’t really do justice to what he presents here. He leads you into his inner sanctuary, takes you through our history and shows where what is public and private meet.
Uys was and still is a voice in the wilderness, ever since he first appeared fearlessly on a stage in the 1970s. He jokes that the all-powerful censor board was his own personal public relations department. And how brilliantly they banned his work: even to the extent of declaring a word Uys invented as obscene, a word that they couldn’t find in any dictionary. We hear the recording of the voice of little Pietertjie Uys singing like an angel and accompanied on the piano by his father, Hannes Uys, whom he would accompany on Sundays to the church where Hannes was organist – the father whom he loved, but didn’t like very much; the sternest critic of his work and yet the one who could also give good advice. He tells of his father’s last moments, being with him as he died and then going back to the family home where Sannie, the housekeeper and his ‘Cape Flats mother’, asked if there wasn’t any washing from ‘Pa’. The audience is spellbound as he shares the suicide of his German mother, Helga, as well as the influences on him of his Afrikaans and German grandmothers.
It’s as if Uys constantly takes his audience into his confidence and so breaks all the rules and crosses boundaries. He remains a master storyteller who can make as much fun of himself as he does with the others who get a lashing from his sharp tongue.
Date: 18 March 2018
Venue: The Kalk Bay Theatre, 52 Main Road, Kalk Bay
This post is sponsored by Chas Everitt Cape Town South