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Theatre Review: The Echo Of A Noise A Father Figures, Or A Memoirable Monologue

The Echo Of A Noise / Starring Pieter-Dirk Uys / Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg

– Bruce Dennill, participate, 1 May 2023

Before Pieter-Dirk Uys comes on stage, there is nothing more than a black chair — not even a microphone on a stand, which naturally presages some sort of performance — on the stage of the Pieter Toerien Theatre. It’s confirmation of the sort of show The Echo Of A Noise is, where distractions are, and should be, non-existent, allowing complete audience focus on Uys as he sits in that chair and simply tells a story — some of the details and recollections of a full and fascinating life, edited to create a clear narrative that, though concise (the running time see Uys use just over a minute of talking per year of his age) contains enough colour and wit and depth to engage throughout.

Wearing a tracksuit top bearing the words ‘Almost famous’, Uys, all in black — including a beanie — couldn’t really present a less glamorous image, particularly for a man whose main alter ego is as outrageous as Evita Bezuidenhout (hardly mentioned here because, frankly, it’s not her story). He speaks clearly but calmly, adding nuance and shade via inflections and facial expressions, choosing volubility over volume. And the bulk of the subject matter is thought-provoking — how Uys’ family life, and particularly his relationship with his father — shaped his development as a man and as an artist — rather than steeped in creativity or imagination.

But none of this restraint takes any of the power away from Uys’ story. Rather, it intensifies the intimacy between performer and audience. This dynamic intensifies as the piece proceeds. Uys is enjoyable to listen to to start with. Then it becomes possible to discern the greater import of what earlier might have seemed like simple elements of an anecdote. And later still, it’s difficult to not be moved on a number of levels as the scope of Uys’ experiences — including being a favourite of both Italian film idol Sofia Loren and the rather less glamorous South African censor board, and for saying more or less the same thing — and to sense (even if you’re not completely able to make the links) connections between his extraordinary existence and your own possibly more mundane tale.

Technically, Uys was faced (during the performance under review), with the sustained distraction of a violent storm, the noise of which defeated the theatre’s soundproofing. But it was a challenge he overcame with both his customary grace and the benefit of his long experience, allowing the audience the benefit of an unbroken flow during his long, layered monologue.

This show was first staged seven years ago and this new version still deals with the same events covered then — it is a memoir with specific focal points after all — but Uys himself continues to change, and to see how he imbues each new production with the insight and sensitivity gained since the previous one adds another level of warmth and wistfulness to proceedings.



Lessons in laughter at devils

– Robyn Sassen, My View, 1 May 2023

AS YOU PUT your hands together in salute of this theatre work, and shift yourself to stand in loyal ovation, you are celebrating and honouring not only this particular theatre work, but the treasure that Pieter-Dirk Uys is to this country. It’s a feeling that floods through the veins of The Echo of a Noise, a new iteration of a work by the same name, performed at Montecasino six years ago. It’s on the boards at the same theatre, until 7 May.

Unapologetically autobiographical, the work runs from Uys’s heart and mind and through your sensibilities like quicksilver, taking the extraordinary self-made career of a political jester from his early days of being a boy soprano in short pants all the way through a lifetime of making audiences laugh at the things that terrify them the most. For the time being, his alter-egos of the ilk of Evita Bezuidenhout or her sister Bambi Kellerman, to name a few, are closeted and referenced with but one pair of lipsticked lips.

Like the 2017 version of this work, this production offers a slice of Uys’s life, rich and textured, with snapshots of everything from Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman and English film director Alfred Hitchcock to the co-founder of Cape Town’s Space Theatre Brian Astbury and Yvonne Bryceland; from candid accounts of losses that he will never recover from and victories that formed the fabric of his being. Like many comedians on stage, Uys has a unique understanding of the mechanisms that make laughter happen. It’s an understanding peppered with the wisdom that the years have brought, but also one generously seasoned with what makes tears happen.

It’s largely a sober — and sobering — understanding of life, the universe and everything from the Uys family roots in the 1940s at 10 Homestead Drive in Pinetown, Cape Town and one which touches liberally yet gently on the universals that make you, as an individual, tick. The magic of imagination; the incredulity of great loss; the disbelief of social injustice; and the fiery thrill of making a difference to a world broken by the egos of others.

Woven together with an understanding and reflection of sound — from the happy familiarity of works by Chopin and Scarlatti under the fingers of his mother Helga, at different times of the day, to the scoldings, advice and vocal acceptance of his idiosyncrasies and dreams by his father, Hannes, or the call of his adored Sophia Loren from the cobbled streets of Rome, or the comments of his cat, Eschel, it’s a tale rich in so many echoes and shadows, ghosts and dreams that the work’s 90 minutes slips by in an instant.

It’s a beautiful work. One which pays tribute to Uys’s writing skills as much as to his performance acumen. The urgency to see it is tightened by a week. But see it, you must. And bring tissues.

  •  The Echo of a Noise is written, directed and performed by Pieter-Dirk Uys. It performs until May 7 at the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino complex in Fourways. From 24 August to 10 September, Uys performs his work Sell-by Date, at Theatre on the Bay, in Cape Town.

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The Echo of a Noise