REVIEW of WHEN IN DOUBT SAY DARLING in CAPE TOWN — NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018
When in Doubt Say Darling: A closet full of treasures
– Steve Kretzmann, The Critter, 28 November 2018
Getting old is not for sissies. Although Pieter-Dirk Uys has most likely been called
a sissy in his lifetime, and many other things by the politicians he has spent a
career brilliantly satirising, his latest show proves, once again, he has a bellyfull
He also has a full belly, as befits a healthy man of 73, which he neatly covers with
a favourite black waistcoat as he presents his latest one-man show, When in Doubt
Say Darling, amidst a jumble of crates (from Darling dairy of course) and Take-a-Lot
cardboard boxes. Which is ironic because Pieter has given a lot and taken little
during his 40-plus years of performance. He gave us a way to deal with our anger
and fear as the vicious and brutal apartheid rulers crushed our country beneath their
inhumane racism and narrow-minded conservatism. He did so by revealing their pettiness
and stupidity, and holding them up to the ridicule they so deserved. In doing so
he helped ease our fear and spurred us on the path of civil disobedience.
The Nelson Mandela presidency saw him struggling for traction, because how do you
ridicule Madiba. But then along came Thabo Mbeki and his Aids denialism, with Manto
Tshabalala Msimang in tow. Pieter took to the stage on behalf of the hundreds of
thousands of South Africans denied lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs and lambasted
that short little man with his pipe, his Shakespeare, and his deadly disregard for
science. And then, of course, came the trump card: Jacob Zuma.
Pieter regales us with these career recollections in a show which is part autobiography,
part self-reflection, and part nostalgia, bearing in mind South African nostalgia
is about three parts bitter to one part sweet. For many, there is no nostalgia, only
memory, and the fact the audience in the Fugard Studio theatre was 99% white despite
1994 having happened 24 years ago, is a reminder of that.
But Pieter is well aware of our diverse experiences. Also, being both an Afrikaaner
and a Jew, he knows how to make a little bit of sweet stretch a long way so that
the medicine can go down. He does it so well that you only realise you’ve gulped
it down after the fact. The bitter pill we gleefully digest here amidst the innocuous
ruminations on growing old and downsizing and memories of renovating a crumbling
Victorian house full of snakes when he perchance moved to Darling, is the hate speech
and violent rhetoric of the EFF, as well as the dangerous shut down of public debate
and freedom of expression by a new generation of self-righteous, hashtag-brandishing,
censorious youth. The truth of which is weird, because usually it is the youth who
break the calcified conservatism of the older generation, not the other way round.
Pieter, for instance, has come under fire by the social media generation for impersonating
a black man -– Zuma. Ingeniously, he gets around this in ‘Darling by impersonating
PW Botha impersonating Zuma. But then, true to form, he defies his censorious critics
by donning a doek and impersonating a coloured Muslim aunty from the Bo-Kaap.
In between putting on a hat and tie here and a doek there and a fake leopard skin
where-ever, he just chats to us. Or at least it feels like he chats to us — it’s
easy to forget he’s a consummate actor — telling stories about people he’s met, things
he’s done. He becomes most vulnerable when, without warning or preamble, morphs into
a forgetful geezer packing up home for a two-roomed (bathroom and bedroom) downsize.
For a little while it is unclear whether this is a new character or if Pieter is
still acting as Pieter. Then it becomes clear: it is Pieter acting as an old geezer
in the country acting as Pieter acting as an old geezer. It goes around to him, standing
there amidst a jumble of boxes, lost in memories that fold in on themselves.
If this is old age, he’s certainly no sissy. In fact, he’ll even give you a free
lesson on how to put fake eyelashes on in the men’s toilets without poking your eye
When in Doubt Say Darling is back at the Fugard Studio Theatre until 15 December.