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Pieter-Dirk Uys


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Remembering the ‘Echo of a Noise’

– Tracey Saunders, Cape Times, 29 May 2016


VISITING Pieter-Dirk Uys at Evita se Peron, surrounded by cats and concrete reminders of the past in his fossil park, there is no doubt as to who the queen of the establishment in Darling is. He has installed signs which await the arrival of Queen Victoria’s statue, but until then he reigns supreme over this quirky patch of paradise on the West Coast. Listening to him reminisce about his youth and the early roots of his love of the theatre, the sparkle that has captured audiences young and old over the years is evident and his exuberance and sense of enthusiasm are contagious.


About 18 months ago the actor and writer decided to take some time off “to re-invent” as he describes it.


It also marked his 70th birthday, not a momentous event for him, “It meant nothing, except as a speed limit,” he laughs but he admits as “I have opened the windows in my mind, other things have come in.” Despite his optimistic nature politics was beginning to weary even him. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel which you can’t see immediately because the tunnel is curved,” he chuckles.


His ability to find the thread of humour however tenuous in any situation is one of the attributes which draws people to him and makes his political observations so astute and his impersonations so accurate. He has cast aside the characters and stepped out of the political milieu as he has ventured in to new, far more personal terrain in his latest production The Echo of a Noise (Pieter-Dirk Uys unpowered at last!) a phrase that struck him two years ago and led him to wonder what exactly he was echoing. “Am I the echo of a noise that has happened, or am I the echo of a noise reinventing itself for the future? Am I the echo of the noise with which I grew up meaning music, and arguments and a father?”


Perhaps that echo is the reverberating questions that remain with you once you have engaged with Uys. Ultimately the testament of a great artist is not one that provides answers but one that leaves you with questions, both of your self and the world around you. It is the questions and echoes of his youth and formative experiences that he expands upon in this staged autobiography of sorts.


“The main people in the chorus line are ma and pa,” he says before changing his mind and saying, “Actually they are the leads and I am the chorus.”


He acknowledges that there were several signposts which changed his life, not the least of which was the death of his mother. “My mother committing suicide, let’s not even think that was a small signpost. That was the end of a life, mine as well.” His voice is laden with emotion as he remembers, “She was an angel, always there and adding a sense of balance to everything.”


While both of his parents were exceptionally musically talented their attitudes differed enormously. Pieter and his sister Tessa competed in the annual eisteddfods, both English and Afrikaans. Their father encouraged their competitive nature while their mother urged them to enjoy themselves. “If you win you can have an ice cream. If you don’t win, you can have two,” she would say.


Along with memories of her laughing alongside him in church earning the admonishment of the dominee, “Mevrou Uys, u kinders lag in die kerk,” it is clear that she is never far from his thoughts. The profound influence that his father had on his life is evident in the animated way in which he recalls moments him with so vividly: visits backstage to the Eoan group after hearing them perform La Traviata at the City Hall, his advice to him not to be obvious and to explore subtlety in his texts and his encouragement to never lose hope.


“He had a laugh that used to rattle the windows,” Uys remembers and says that his father, “knew everything and what he didn’t know he made up. The truth is interesting but not always entertaining.” Oom Hannes as he was fondly known retired from his position as a clerk in the Provincial Administration at the age of 50 to start a music department at Groote Schuur Hoerskool. His father’s love of music began at an early age and he played the organ from 12, even when his feet never reached the pedals. It is no surprise then that music has been an integral part of Uys’s life.


“Mozart was my best friend. I couldn’t believe that he was dead, his music sounded so alive,” he admits.


It is this musical instinct which I think leads to the innate rhythm and unique cadence of his scripts, a striking feature of Echo of a Noise when it premièred in a packed Guy Butler auditorium at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 2015.


Pieter admits to having disguised himself throughout his life once he “had discovered his alphabet” and his unpowdered, unadorned presence in a simple black t-shirt has come at a time when I believe audiences are keen to see him “unplugged.”


As he recounts stories of watching concerts at the City Hall alongside his sister Tessa, her holding a kitten and him clutching a white rat both acquired from the pet shop across the road, I catch a glimpse of that Pieter, the young boy who worked as an usher at the theatre and courted love in contravention of several apartheid era laws. A boy who was loved and a young man who dreamt and who continues to have hope and is unafraid to share his vision of hope. This is the Pieter-
Dirk Uys you will see on the stage at the Theatre on the Bay in June.


Towards the end of his father’s life, Uys grew anxious lest he forget some of his father’s stories and he asked him if he could record them. His father declined with the response “If you want to keep them, remember them.” He laments, “I didn’t remember enough” and encourages people to listen to their parents and grandparents. In an age where we have so many available communication channels and opportunities to voice our opinions it has become even more important to listen.


Perhaps then we can also be attuned to the echoes of our own histories. In the interim I don’t mind being privy to the echo of any noises uttered by the man who we know so well as a writer, activist, actor, entertainer and now eventually as a human being and a son.

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