‘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)
** 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