REVIEW of WHEN IN DOUBT, SAY DARLING in LONDON — MAY 2019
Theatre Review: When in Doubt, Say Darling with Pieter-Dirk Uys
Cary Gee finds that South African drag queen Pieter Dirk-Uys is a compelling and
politically-charged master storyteller
– Cary Gee, Pridelife Magazine, 16 May 2019
Writer, actor, satirist, impressionist, anti-apartheid hero, drag queen and the “most
famous white woman in South Africa”, Pieter-Dirk Uys wears many hats, both literally
and figuratively in his latest outing.
Some are worn purely for decorative purposes, others are donned to expose the “mock
in democracy”, or to inhabit one of the many characters that have contributed to
his legend, during a 50-year career as thorn in the side of the South African government,
regardless of its colour.
In the era of political correctness and the Me Too movement When in Doubt, Say Darling
is an exercise in housekeeping. Uys takes his broom and sweepsaway any veneer of
respectability that has settled beneath the political umbra.
Whether comparing the divisions of Brexit to the segregation of apartheid South Africa,
and, by extension, Nigel Farage, to the old white men that ruled his home nation,
or declaring the current ANC government, that is being renewed in a general election
that is taking place as he speaks, as the “best that money can buy”, Uys’ satire
has lost none of its muscularity. That his spleen erupts with the politeness of a
middle-class Jo’burg hostess simply adds veracity to his never-less-than-compelling
narrative. Uys remains a master story teller, a tribute to his outstanding skills
as both dramatist and actor.
Fearing that it is no longer OK for a white man to impersonate a black man Uys circumnavigates
his dilemma by “impersonating apartheid leader PW Botha impersonating ANC leader
Jacob Zuma”. It’s a stroke of genius that allows him to deflate two monstrously corrupt
egos at the same time. “I used to need make-up to do Botha. Now I actually look like
the old bugger,” rues Uys, now 73, as he slips into character.
But it is when adopting one of the many female alter-egos that made Uys one of the
most famous and politically-challenging drag queens that Uys’ luminosity really shines.
New character, Mrs Peterson, a mixed-race Muslim woman, dons her headscarf and worries
about a forthcoming trip to London, to visit her son and see the “Trooping of the
Coloureds”, while a Jewish princess would rather remain in South Africa “and be murdered
in her own bed, than have to get up and make it herself”.
But it is social-climbing (and now paid-up member of the ANC ) Evita Bezuidenhout
whom many here this evening have come to see, and after Uys delivers a masterclass
in wearing false eye lashes, while repeatedly metamorphosing into the “wrong white
woman”, first Angela Merkel, then Thatcher/ May the transformation into Nelson Mandela’s
“beard” and second wife is complete. So too is Uys’s remarkable journey from a young
man “who doesn’t do women” into one of the world’s most humane raconteurs.
“Never underestimate the people we laugh at,” he warns. There’s little chance of
underestimating our host this evening.
When in Doubt, Say Darling is at the Soho Theatre in London until 25 May