REVIEWS of THE ECHO OF A NOISE in LONDON — MAY/JUNE 2018
*** South African satirist relives his apartheid clashes
– Brian Logan, The Guardian, 5 June 2018
Part memoir, part nostalgia trip for white South Africans, Pieter-Dirk Uys’s new
monologue is a world away from the arch satirical turns with which he made his —
or rather, his alter ego Evita Bezuidenhout’s — name. There are no frills, just Uys
in black, on a stool, narrating his life story from 1940s Cape Town via a London
education and back to a career mocking the apartheid regime in theatre and drag.
It’s performed in a low-key style, but Uys is a capable raconteur with an eventful
story that shines a light on social and political history across two continents.
It will be most enjoyed by expat Afrikaners: several of the punchlines are in Uys’s
native tongue; dewy-eyed memories of Springbok Radio elicit gurgles of recognition
from compatriots in the crowd. You start to wonder whether these reminiscences of
a sheltered white upbringing at 10 Homestead Way, Pinelands, are a bit too fond,
as Uys recalls endless classical music recitals and sings paeans to his heroic Malay
maid. But the childhood innocence — and ignorance — are soon punctured, and the second
half recounts the actor and writer’s clashes with authority as, in situ at the radical
Space theatre in Cape Town, he flouts one apartheid law after another.
At points, particularly as the monologue extends deep into its second hour, one craves
dramatic structure, or some sense of where this monologue is going. Finally, its
heroes — besides Uys himself — are his beloved mother, an exiled German-Jewish pianist,
and his charismatic but disciplinarian Afrikaner dad. The former’s suicide gives
the show its most heartfelt moments. A long-distance friendship with Sophia Loren
provides a rather improbable subplot.
Uys ends his tale in 1994, when South Africa, blazing with hope, holds its first
democratic election. A rueful aside acknowledges that those hopes have not been fulfilled.
But recent history is not Uys’s territory here. Titled The Echo of a Noise, the show
offers a privileged but engaged perspective on apartheid’s near half-century, from
a performer who learned early to laugh at his own fears, and is still doing so.
• At Soho theatre, London, until 16 June. Box office: 020-7478 0100.
South African Pieter-Dirk Uys has become a regular visitor to the UK over the years,
but he usually comes in disguise. If he isn't dressed as his monstrous creation Evita
Bezuidenhout he is doing a pin-sharp impersonation of Desmond Tutu or another famous
political figure. This time round, in An Echo Of A Noise, it is a "And this is me..."
performance, with Uys on his own in a t-shirt and impish grin telling his life story,
which in effect is the story of South Africa since the 1940s.
I saw this show last week and was suprised to see that it received a lukewarm review
from the Times. The subject matter might sound as if it is not for veryone, but Uys
is such a captivating anecdotalist it soon pulls you in with more than mere laughs.
There are haunting moments from his childhood as apartheid comes in. Some memories
are chillingly funny such as when he sees a tattoo on the arm of one of his mother's
Jewish friends and asks if it is her phone number. She suggests he tries to ring
Elsewhere the mood is lighter and a little namedrop-y. Uys wrote to film star Sophia
Loren from an early age and they ended up becoming friends. He visited her in Paris
when he was staying in digs run by a snob who called him "Monsieur Arse" until finding
out about his famous chum. Later on Uys charmed British actors to donate money and
come to his shows when he was starting out in the theatre in London.
It is not just funny and poltical, it is touching too. His relationship with his
parents is beautifully drawn. After his mother's death things were not always easy
with his old school father but in later years they clearly formed a close, tender
The show does, however, make few concessions to a non ex-pat audience. Uys has a
habit of slipping into Afrikaans at the end of a gag and not always offering a translation.
But this did not feel like a major issue in the same way that non-Yiddish speakers
can get the gist of a Jackie Mason aside just by the rhythms of his speech. Uys conveys
so much by a look or a shrug that there is no need for subtitles. It is hard to believe
the performance lasts 90 minutes as it rushes by. Not necessarily a full-on comedy
show, but certainly a fascinating history lesson.