Archived 1998 Articles about  Pieter-Dirk Uys

Pieter and Evita's Peron

Master South African satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys was in East London for three days this week coinciding with theatrical and social appearances by Evita Bezuidenhout in the city.

– Ines Watson, Daily Dispatch, 20 February 1998

DARLING seems an almost too appropriate address for Pieter-Dirk Uys. For not only is this master of satire the darling of South African theatre but he is fast becoming the focus of entertainment for the little town's inhabitants.

"I hear the children outside in the street, all waiting for a sight of Evita," he smiled. "Then if she does appear, it's 'Evita, we love you' — it's wonderful."

But anyone who might think that this flight into the country might be a signal that Uys is ready to wind down a bit, couldn't be more wrong.

With an increasingly large foothold in British and now American theatre, he keeps his home fires burning with many new ventures, running a schedule which would exhaust many a seasoned performer.

The Victorian house at Darling was a serendipitous find on a weekend drive.

"I hadn't been there since the 1950s, but one morning in 1995 I found myself there, saw this dilapidated house which just said Hello. I bought it the next day."

Three months after moving there from the middle of Cape Town's Gardens, the disused station building became vacant.

"It was so sweet — pink with palm trees on the platform. I just knew it had to be Evita's peron and so I took out a lease."

Turning the station into a 50-seat theatre and little restaurant proved such a resounding success that an extension provided another venue to cater for demand.

"The restaurant, where a local lady is chef, serves good old-fashioned boerekos: very good curries, tomato bredie, malva puddings and koeksusters, while the wine, of course is Evita's blanc and noir."

The venue, which is 50 minutes drive from the city, has fast become a favourite venue for jaded Capetonians looking for something different. Also as Uys refuses to play in Cape Town any longer, the mountain dwellers just have to come to Mohammed. Locals can buy a Bapetikosweti passport for a mere R5, which gives them ticket discounts.

"The whole thing is quite affirmative, really," Uys mused. "We've also started a fleamarket and weekend workshops where local kids can come to learn music or about the theatre. But it's the people who have made the dream come true, they're great."

A week-long arts festival has also started in September which coincides with Darling's traditional wild flower show.

Uys claims he's in Darling to stay. "After all, I'm 53 now, I don't have to prove anything, I can only try to constantly improve. The Darling Old Age Home is next door — it's just perfect."

This local retreat is simultaneously mirrored by Uys' increasing number of performances abroad.

He missed the Grahamstown Festival last year because he was performing in London and then had a resoundingly successful run in New York, where he satirised American politicians in addition to his South African stalwarts.

"I live in Darling, true, but I have satellite television and a cell phone, I'm 19 hours away from New York, the world is a village. I found that in New York people responded to the satire because basically everyone has the same problems. I thought that my audience there would be mostly ex-South Africans but, in fact, they were 95 per cent American.

"US audiences are very easily shocked. Politics makes them nervous and people are afraid of having opinions. If comedians want to be daring in America they are merely obscene — that's easy, it is much more difficult to be satirical and they're not used to that."

Uys has performed in London many times and now feels ready to bring his caustic wit to bear on politicians there. "My next show will be about Tony Blair and the European Union — I think we're all ready for that," he laughed, "and then I'll go back to America next year."

Local Uys fans needn't fear, though, he will be attending Grahamstown in July, bringing three different shows with him. Oudtshoorn, however, will not be graced with Evita's presence.

"I will go back there but at the moment I feel that Oudtshoorn's honeymoon is over. The insistence on the Afrikaans-taal thing will kill it and it should become broader and more embracing of different cultures to survive. After all, that's what happened in Grahamstown. It started off very much as an English language festival and now it provides a well-structured welcoming platform for everyone."

However bleak his comments may be on stage, Uys remains positive and upbeat about the future of the country.

"Just remember the past and what it was really like — everything was death, death, death. Now it's based on a culture of love and people can make their dreams come true.

"I don't make light of crime and I feel that the high incidence of rape, in particular, is a horrific problem. But to laugh at our fears is a healthy thing. It will never take them away but it stops them being that lethal monster hiding in the cupboard.

"We have to work at it. Freedom is a full-time job."

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