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Pieter-Dirk Uys

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‘I’d rather stick to the stage than be brained by a flying red hardhat’

– Pieter-Dirk Uys, The Mercury, 6 July 2017

The Echo of a Noise is the story of a life well-lived — a boy from Pinelands who grew up in a fractured society blessed with parents who brought music and love into the family. A boy who was stricken by the disease to please from an early age, overshadowed by church and school and a very strict father, and yet finding inspiration and excitement through his fantasies and imagination.

 

The topics in the story will be shared by most of the audience: father, mother, sister, cat, swopping comics, seeing movies, Mozart, Elvis, something called sex, something named death, something remembered as love, laughter and maybe a tear — but throughout all the familiar noises of life that eventually create a symphony of celebration.

 

I have never had the courage to get out from behind the masks and facades of the many characters I have performed on stage for over 7000 times. They were mainly there to focus on political madness and mirth. This is the first time I tell the story behind the stories. Maybe turning 71 has given me the thumbs-up to share the secrets and let the cat and her kittens out of the bag. I think the restrictions I was faced with as a writer and performer especially during the National Party years, helped me create possibilities of confronting them through unexplored avenues — in my case, using humour as a weapon of mass distraction.

 

People seldom expect to remember what they laughed at, unless to tell the joke to someone else. Not everything is funny. To laugh at fear could help make that fear less fearful, and let's face it, our lives in South Africa during the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 1980s were shaped by fears. Laughter was a relief. It still is. And Evita was just one of those characters who eventually stepped out of the satirical cluster and became the most famous white woman in South Africa — then and now.

 

Of course reaction to my work has changed over the years.  I expect my audience to change from performance to performance, because the material is based on the news of the day and often the prejudices we all have to face when confronted with so many choices, especially in this democracy that constantly demands change of mind and opinion. Theatre is live; news is live — and yet entertainment demands more than just headlines. My characters have to be familiar and representative of the many areas of conflict. I try and keep to the balance of 49% anger versus 51% entertainment. Then and now.

 

The coming of the Age of Trump has also added another nipple to the teat of inspiration. Suddenly, though not for the first time, the leader of a first world democracy has the IQ of an artichoke and the cheek of a drunk. He has brilliantly reinvented the alphabet of political communication by dropping all the vowels of balance and detail, while focusing on the consonants of racism, bigotry, lies and spin. Goofy has left Disneyland and moved into the Oval Office.

 

The TV classic ‘West Wing’ now presents a new reality series, this time without the frown of concern, but with the shriek of mad laughter. I am thrilled by it all! Just put my orange pussy on my head, clench my fists into small claws ideal for groping and grabbing, and structure a presidential speech of half-sentences, quarter-answers and nano-hope. In an upside-down society the lowest common denominator floats on top. Enter The Donald followed by The Melania and The Tailwagging Trumpettes. Satire never had it so good.

 

The Protection of State Information Act has been passed by Parliament and just awaits President Zuma’s signature — and he has been practising. Once he signs it into law and I on stage pass comic comment on an ANC government that is corrupt, inept and careless, I will get into serious trouble because I have just given away a state secret. Now because of the pending law against hate speech, if I pay tribute to the inspiration of politicians who are like monkeys, because the higher they climb the pole of ambition, the more of their arses we can see — I will be liable for a jail term. Never a dull moment in a country of free speech.

 

But as I've been doing what I do since 1968, exercising my freedom of expression has become a full-time commitment and because it is always reinventing itself, theatre keeps me on my toes and living in the moment. The great library of stories that have been shared from the stage through the ages, has done so much to allow us in the audience to confront the drama of life: of relationships, of pain, of turmoil and strife. And of course, the release of tensions through laughter, either through the belly-laugh of via comedy or the cringing pain of humour.

 

** Politics has today become pure theatre, but I would rather stick to the stage than be brained in Parliament by a flying red hardhat!"

       – Pieter-Dirk Uys

       (follow the latest episode of Evita's Free Speech on YouTube every Sunday)   www.pdu.co.za

 

** Pieter-Dirk Uys will be performing his one-man memoir THE ECHO OF A NOISE at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from 25 July – 6 August. Book Computicket

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