WHAT remains after everything’’s been said and done? When all the wigs and characters
have been packed away, who is the individual left standing alone in the spotlight?
These are some of the questions grappled with when the curtain slides away to reveal
Pieter-Dirk Uys at the start of his new solo production, The Echo of a Noise.
Arriving in Cape Town following its debut during last year’s National Arts Festival
(NAF) in Grahamstown, the piece marks both the Evita Bezuidenhout collaborator’s
70th birthday, as well as his fifth decade of entertaining, educating and inspiring
There are, however, no high heels or glitzy gowns this time around.
In fact, the Divine Mrs E — nor the rest of the pantheon of motley characters Uys
has created over the years — do not even make an appearance. Apart from the ghost
of PW Botha’s ever-wagging finger that is...
Instead, the viewer is granted a unique opportunity to plug into the stream of consciousness
about to flow from this formidable raconteur’s mouth. And what a profound 90-minute
journey it turns out to be!
While the production is described as a one-man memoir, don’t expect a chronological
relating of key events from Uys’ life and career, nor a tell-all in which juicy industry
secrets and romps are revealed (hopefully the latter will follow later).
Presented largely, instead, as a collection of vignettes drawn from his childhood
and early career, the result is a touching and intensely personal meditation wrapped
in a bright, light-hearted package.
Flavoured with the kind of vivid anecdotes and seemingly effortless quips audiences
have come to love about him over the years, by the end of The Echo of a Noise one
leaves with rare and privileged insight into Uys’ past.
He is both the echo of the “noise” originally created by his forefathers, grandparents
and parents, as well as the one who made the actual noise with his activism and rule-breaking
antics during South Africa’s darkest hour.
From growing up in Pinelands to hearing Mozart for the first time to falling in love
with Sophia Loren, along the way he also introduces us to those individuals who’ve
had a profound impact on the trajectory of his life and early career.
More than anyone else, however, it is/was his relationship with his parents — Hannes
Uys and Helga Bassel — that features most prominently and most often. Not only is
it something that we can all relate to, but one suspects it is the thing most of
us will spend the rest of our lives trying to make sense of.
While the unconditional love he has for Helga and “Oom Hannes”, to this day it is
never brought into question, it is the revelation of those related elements that
were difficult and/ or tragic to deal with that makes this production cut so much
deeper than a mere evening’s worth of entertainment.
These include Uys’ mother’s suicide, his fraught relationship with his father, growing
up under a traditional NG church suburban bubble, as well as becoming the poster
child for those in charge of censorship during apartheid.
Not only are these details frankly and bravely shared with the viewer, but they will
arrive as a beacon of relatability to those who might also still be trying to shake
the Calvinistic ‘babalas’ from their system.
Compelling, fighting fit at 70 and with the phrase “Almost Famous” ironically printed
on his hoodie, at the end of The Echo of a Noise Uys appears more determined and
in charge of his craft than ever before.
“Check your lipstick before you come and talk to me,” Naomi Campbell once barked
at an out-of-line aspiring model in a YouTube clip that’s well worth looking up.
For the first time pulling out some rouge (red) from his pocket before defiantly
applying it to his lips during the production’s last few seconds, let that be a warning
to all of us as he takes on the next 70.
THE ECHO OF A NOISE. Written and performed by Pieter-Dirk Uys. At Theatre on the
Bay, Camps Bay from Tuesday to Saturday until June 18 at 8pm.
– Barbara Loots, Theatre Scene Cape Town, 7 June 2016
In The Echo of a Noise, Pieter-Dirk Uys entices the audience by doing the inverse
to what we are accustomed to… he dresses down… actually more than down. When the
curtain goes up, it is just him, looking you straight in the eyes without even a
smidgen of lipstick or the hint of a wig.
The Echo of a Noise is not his normal satirical show, it is a soul-baring honest
memoir brought to stage by the one who can tell the story best… the one you lived
The show takes you on the life journey of little Pietertjie Uys, who shares all his
trials, tribulations and triumphs — as he grows into the legendary stage personality
that today is Pieter-Dirk Uys — as if you are the closest of friends, until finally
revealed sits the legend we all adore today.
Upon reflection of the story that unfolds you realise that The Echo of a Noise is
not really just the story of Pieter(tjie), but rather the story of “Pa and Bokkie”,
as it becomes clear that Pieter-Dirk Uys was greatly influenced by his father, whom
he always loved but maybe not always liked. The one's search for identity and acceptance
intrinsically linked to the other.
Through his honest telling you are captured by the heart and soul that is Pieter-Dirk
Uys. A man who through his experiences, graduated from the University of Imagination,
got a masters from the University of Courage and now has a Doctorate from the University
Sitting in conversation with him in this “show” (I use this word very loosely because
it is so much more than a mere production), time feels like it is standing still,
as you hang onto every word of this skilled story teller. You sit in amazement as
he reveals how his fascination with Sophia Loren developed into the most unique perhaps
even lifesaving friendship, how he battled the ignorance of Publications Board with
self-created “swear” words, realised he could be more of a true activist, and how
a need to feed his beloved thinning cat resulted in him creating his first show ‘Adapt
or Die’ with PW Botha as social commentary character inspiration.
Ultimately theatre friend Charmaine van der Merwe sums up the feeling behind The
Echo of a Noise best:
"Absolutely brilliant - I am nostalgic about someone else's life! It was simply beautiful.
The right amount of everything. A must must see!"
Don't miss the opportunity to see the truly inspirational and unpowdered Pieter-Dirk
Uys onstage at Theatre on the Bay in the brilliant The Echo of a Noise before run
ends 18 June 2016. You will never look at trains and little towns like Darling the
same again. Book your tickets at Computicket.
Teaterresensie: The Echo of a Noise deur Pieter-Dirk Uys
– Maryke Roberts, Litnet, 3 Junie 2016
The Echo of a Noise
Theatre on the Bay
31 Mei tot 18 Junie, Dinsdae tot Saterdae om 20:00.
Kaartjies by Computicket en die teaterkaartjiekantoor, 021 438 3301
Geen resensie kan reg laat geskied of waarlik hulde bring aan The Echo of a Noise,
die jongste eenmanvertoning van Pieter-Dirk Uys nie.
Jy kan nie een van ons grootste akteurs, stemme, satiriste, teksskrywers, kampvegters
en HIV-opvoeders enigiets leer van teater as hy al meer as 7 000 maal alleen op verhoë
reg oor die wêreld opgetree het nie.
Die vertoning is Pieter-Dirk Uys op ’n stoeltjie op ’n reuse donker verhoog, ’n straal
lig wat hom omvou. Vir 90 minute stap jy saam deur sy lewe: die vrese en vreugdes
van ’n jong seun wat in die 40’s en 50’s in Pinelands grootword. Sy pa, Hannes, vir
wie hy bang is, sy ma, Helga Bassel -– sy vertroueling en veilige vesting met haar
herinneringe van ’n Berlyn voor dit vertroebel is deur politiek — sy suster Tessa
en sy “Kaapse Vlakte-ma”, Sannie.
Hy vertel van die optredes in die Kaapse stadsaal, uitstappies na die see, laggende
toeriste op die stoomtrein, hy wat sing terwyl sy pa hom begelei op troues en ander
sosiale geleenthede, sy liefde vir Sophia Loren, sy ma se selfdood. Hy raak somber
as hy in die gehoor in staar en sê: “Jy herstel nooit daarvan nie.”
Hy is gestroop, eerlik, oordenkend, openhartig en vreesloos, maar o, so weerloos
op daardie verhoog.
Gestroop van enige masker soos lipstiffie, ’n pruik, ’n rok of hoëhakskoene waarmee
hy agter Tannie Evita of Bambi Kellerman se rokspante kan skuil nie. Geen swart hoedjie
of kaftan van PW Botha of Desmond Tutu om die fokus van hom weg te lei nie.
Met sy gebreide swart hoedjie en hemp met Almost Famous bedruk, lyk hy meer soos
’n ou visser wat mymerend oor sy 70 lewensjare terugkyk.
Hierdie stuk is meer as ’n nostalgiese lewensreis saam met ’n bekroonde akteur. Dis
’n raar kykie in die siel van iemand wie se lewe regtig aan die kunste gewy is. Iemand
wat nie gestuit het voor die destydse sensuurraad of kritiek of vervolging van die
apartheidsregering nie. Iemand wat nie omgee om jou in die diepste skuiling van sy
hart te neem nie. Hy dryf met homself die spot, net so maklik soos hy dit met ander
En voor jy jou kon kry biggel ’n traan oor jou wang as hy van sy pa se siekte praat,
herleef jy weer ’n geliefde se siekte en sterfte. Voel jy ook weerloos en oopgevlek,
al sit jy in die donker gehoor.
Hy is ’n meesterlike storieverteller, sonder arrogansie of selfbeheptheid. En eendag
as hy nie meer daar is nie, gaan mense waarlik besef watter diep spore hy nou eintlik
getrap het, sonder dat ons regtig aandag gegee het.
In sy 70ste lewensjaar wil hy nou sy storie vertel, het die satirikus Pieter-Dirk
Uys aan die vooraand van sy solovertoning The Echo of a Noise aan Amanda Botha gesê.
– Amanda Botha, Die Burger, 31 Mei 2016
“Skielik het ek besef ek weet meer van Sophia Loren se lewe as wat ek weet van my
ouers en my familie se stories. Nou wil ek mý storie vertel,” sê Pieter-Dirk Uys.
Met sy 7 000ste solovertoning, The Echo of a Noise, wat vanaand geopen word, wil
hy dit nou in sy 70ste lewensjaar ’n slag anders doen. Hierdie keer staan tannie
Evita en die stoute Bambi Kellerman opsy vir Pieter-Dirk Uys unplugged, intiem.
“Nou’s ek by pa Hannes en ma Helga en loop ek terug na my kinderjare. Dis tye van
lag, huil en musiek. Dis oor my en my mense,” sê hy.
Ons gesels in sy interessante en gesellige huis op Darling, waar drie honde en twee
katte regeer — ’n ruimte waarin hy tuisgekom het en kreatief elke dag kan werk. By
ons op die tafel is ’n klompie foto’s waarna ons nou en dan kyk om iets van hierdie
tyd te beleef.
“Ek was baie lief vir my pa, maar het nie veel van hom gehou nie. En noudat ek ouer
word, lyk ek ál meer na hom. Hy was my strengste kritikus, maar ook iemand wat goeie
advies kon uitdeel.” Hy onthou dat hy as Pietertjie deur sy pa op klavier begelei
is “om soos ’n engeltjie met ’n soet sopraanstemmetjie die hoë nootjies raak te vat”.
Dis wat hy met sy gehoor wil deel as hy ’n ou opname daarvan voorspeel.
In die 1970’s, toe hy die toneelwêreld betree het as “iemand sonder talent”, soos
’n dosent hom as student afgemaak het, het hy met sy werk by Die Ruimte-teater ongekarteerde
weë vreesloos verken. Hy moes fyn trap rondom die destydse Publikasieraad, en ná
die derde verbod op sy werk, soek hy raad by sy pa. Dié se oorwoë mening was: “Maak
’n Paar weke later lees Uys dat daar ’n vakature in die Publikasieraad was en hy
oortuig sy pa om aansoek te doen. Pa Hannes word sensor en nou het sy seun ’n verteenwoordiger
in die binnekring.
’n Nostalgie omvou hom wanneer hy vertel hoe sy pa ná ’n vertoning vir hom ’n wenk
gegee het. “Bokkie, oppas vir die vinger in my gesig wat my oë op skrefies vou. Kielie
agter jou oor en my oë sal jou oë vind.” Elke keer wanneer hy op die verhoog is,
onthou hy dit.
“Ek kan nooit vergeet hoe ek by my pa se sterfbed in die Groote Schuur-hospitaal
gestaan het nie. Ek het gekyk hoe hulle hom deur ’n deur stoot en ek het gevoel dat
hy nou met ander verenig word wat reeds op hom wag. Ek is na ons huis in Pinelands
waar Sannie [Abader], my Cape Flats-ma, kom vra of ek enige wasgoed van my pa gebring
Uys is ’n oomblik stil, asof hy iets soos ’n eerbetoon aanvoel. “By die huis het
ek onthou van my pa se laaste brief aan my. Toe ek dit oopmaak, is daar ’n lys van
25 dinge wat my te doen staan om sy aardse lewe af te sluit.” Van sy ma, die konsertpianis
Helga Bassel, onthou hy veral een “baie mooi ding. Ek en Tessa [sy suster] het aan
elke eisteddfod deelgeneem. Vir my pa was dit dat ons moes wen. My ma het altyd gesê
dat as ons wen, kry ons elk ’n roomys, maar as ons verloor, kry ons elk twee roomyse.”
Steeds dink hy elke dag oor die “verstommende stukkie lewensfilosofie”.
By hom woed ook die hartseer van sy ma se selfdood. “Die oggend praat ek nog met
my ma en die middag hoor ek hoe sy met haar motor oor ’n krans by Chapmanspiek gery
het. Ek het haar laaste brief wat toe by haar gevind is.”
Terwyl ons na ’n pragtige foto van sy ouers kyk, gelukkig saam op die strand, sê
hy: “Al is dit meer as 40 jaar gelede, ’n mens kom nooit daaroor nie.”
Daar is ook sy Afrikaanse en Duitse oumas — sterk mense wat ’n beslissende invloed
op sy lewe was. “Ek vertel van almal, so ’n chorus line van geliefdes.”
Wanneer hy ná meer as 7 000 opvoerings oral in die wêreld nóg ’n keer op die verhoog
staan, onthou hy steeds wat sy suster hom vertel het van die konsertpianis Arthur
Rubinstein. “Hy het gespeel vir die een waarvoor hy lief is, want die een wat langs
die geliefde gesit het, was dalk ’n vyand wat só oorgehaal kon word.”
Sy storie kan nie sonder Loren vertel word nie. Hy het as tienjarige aan haar geskryf
— “ ’n briefie uit Pinelands” — en reeds 60 jaar is hulle in kontak en goeie vriende.
“Ek het in ’n tyd geleef toe Verwoerd as ’n gawe van God gesien is. Met haar Italiaanse
wêreld en vrae het sy my gered.”
• The Echo of a Noise se speelvak duur tot 18 Junie in die Theatre on the Bay
in Kampsbaai. Dit word op 1 en 2 Julie op die Nasionale Kunstefees op Grahamstad
VISITING Pieter-Dirk Uys at Evita se Peron, surrounded by cats and concrete reminders
of the past in his fossil park, there is no doubt as to who the queen of the establishment
in Darling is. He has installed signs which await the arrival of Queen Victoria’s
statue, but until then he reigns supreme over this quirky patch of paradise on the
West Coast. Listening to him reminisce about his youth and the early roots of his
love of the theatre, the sparkle that has captured audiences young and old over the
years is evident and his exuberance and sense of enthusiasm are contagious.
About 18 months ago the actor and writer decided to take some time off “to re-invent”
as he describes it.
It also marked his 70th birthday, not a momentous event for him, “It meant nothing,
except as a speed limit,” he laughs but he admits as “I have opened the windows in
my mind, other things have come in.” Despite his optimistic nature politics was beginning
to weary even him. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel which you can’t see
immediately because the tunnel is curved,” he chuckles.
His ability to find the thread of humour however tenuous in any situation is one
of the attributes which draws people to him and makes his political observations
so astute and his impersonations so accurate. He has cast aside the characters and
stepped out of the political milieu as he has ventured in to new, far more personal
terrain in his latest production The Echo of a Noise (Pieter-Dirk Uys unpowered at
last!) a phrase that struck him two years ago and led him to wonder what exactly
he was echoing. “Am I the echo of a noise that has happened, or am I the echo of
a noise reinventing itself for the future? Am I the echo of the noise with which
I grew up meaning music, and arguments and a father?”
Perhaps that echo is the reverberating questions that remain with you once you have
engaged with Uys. Ultimately the testament of a great artist is not one that provides
answers but one that leaves you with questions, both of your self and the world around
you. It is the questions and echoes of his youth and formative experiences that he
expands upon in this staged autobiography of sorts.
“The main people in the chorus line are ma and pa,” he says before changing his mind
and saying, “Actually they are the leads and I am the chorus.”
He acknowledges that there were several signposts which changed his life, not the
least of which was the death of his mother. “My mother committing suicide, let’s
not even think that was a small signpost. That was the end of a life, mine as well.”
His voice is laden with emotion as he remembers, “She was an angel, always there
and adding a sense of balance to everything.”
While both of his parents were exceptionally musically talented their attitudes differed
enormously. Pieter and his sister Tessa competed in the annual eisteddfods, both
English and Afrikaans. Their father encouraged their competitive nature while their
mother urged them to enjoy themselves. “If you win you can have an ice cream. If
you don’t win, you can have two,” she would say.
Along with memories of her laughing alongside him in church earning the admonishment
of the dominee, “Mevrou Uys, u kinders lag in die kerk,” it is clear that she is
never far from his thoughts. The profound influence that his father had on his life
is evident in the animated way in which he recalls moments him with so vividly: visits
backstage to the Eoan group after hearing them perform La Traviata at the City Hall,
his advice to him not to be obvious and to explore subtlety in his texts and his
encouragement to never lose hope.
“He had a laugh that used to rattle the windows,” Uys remembers and says that his
father, “knew everything and what he didn’t know he made up. The truth is interesting
but not always entertaining.” Oom Hannes as he was fondly known retired from his
position as a clerk in the Provincial Administration at the age of 50 to start a
music department at Groote Schuur Hoerskool. His father’s love of music began at
an early age and he played the organ from 12, even when his feet never reached the
pedals. It is no surprise then that music has been an integral part of Uys’s life.
“Mozart was my best friend. I couldn’t believe that he was dead, his music sounded
so alive,” he admits.
It is this musical instinct which I think leads to the innate rhythm and unique cadence
of his scripts, a striking feature of Echo of a Noise when it premièred in a packed
Guy Butler auditorium at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 2015.
Pieter admits to having disguised himself throughout his life once he “had discovered
his alphabet” and his unpowdered, unadorned presence in a simple black t-shirt has
come at a time when I believe audiences are keen to see him “unplugged.”
As he recounts stories of watching concerts at the City Hall alongside his sister
Tessa, her holding a kitten and him clutching a white rat both acquired from the
pet shop across the road, I catch a glimpse of that Pieter, the young boy who worked
as an usher at the theatre and courted love in contravention of several apartheid
era laws. A boy who was loved and a young man who dreamt and who continues to have
hope and is unafraid to share his vision of hope. This is the Pieter- Dirk Uys you
will see on the stage at the Theatre on the Bay in June.
Towards the end of his father’s life, Uys grew anxious lest he forget some of his
father’s stories and he asked him if he could record them. His father declined with
the response “If you want to keep them, remember them.” He laments, “I didn’t remember
enough” and encourages people to listen to their parents and grandparents. In an
age where we have so many available communication channels and opportunities to voice
our opinions it has become even more important to listen.
Perhaps then we can also be attuned to the echoes of our own histories. In the interim
I don’t mind being privy to the echo of any noises uttered by the man who we know
so well as a writer, activist, actor, entertainer and now eventually as a human being
and a son.
"You want an interview with Evita Bezuidenhout? You can! This is one woman I’m very
glad I didn’t have to meet face-to-face.”
Pieter-Dirk Uys is sharp to my playful ice-breaker question of arranging an interview
with Tannie Evita (watch this space!).
I can’t help feeling guilty because soon Pieter will take on his first stage show,
at the age of 70, as himself.
But inevitably, we talk about the darling from Darling. Evita is a role he’s played
for more than three decades. Has his alter ego become blurred with his true self?
“I do know her well because she has been with me for over 30 years. One has to build
up a history and build up opinions, purely because people kept on asking me the questions
like ‘what is her surname?’ She didn’t have a surname. A journalist from an Afrikaans
Sunday newspaper asked me in 1982, when Evita had just appeared in Adapt or Dye at
the Market Theatre.
“He asked what’s the surname and there was a poster on the wall behind him which
read ‘The Seagull – Aletta Bezuidenhout’.
“Her whole history has just been an answer to people’s questions. It had to be entertaining.
“Now she’s a member of the ANC, which is the only logical place for Evita to be because
that is power. Opposition is about complaining.
“She is cooking for reconciliation. I have some wonderful SMSes and e-mails from
my friends in Luthuli House saying, ‘We saw her in the passage.’ Just because she
doesn’t exist doesn’t mean she’s not real!
“She must never be me, then it’s not real. I’m a multi-phrenic, not a schizophrenic…
I have all sorts of compartments where emotions can be channelled for characters.
“The only thing I have a problem with is PW Botha because without my hair I look
just like PW Botha.
“But I want the women to recognise the woman and the men to respect the man. In fact,
Nelson Mandela treated her like a lady. He used to say: ‘Ah, Evita. You look so beautiful.’
Then he’d hug her and whisper in my ear.
“I said to him, after many experiences with him and Evita: ‘President Mandela, every
time you see me I’m dressed as a Evita.’
“He said: ‘Don’t worry, Pieter, I know you’re inside’.”
Pieter’s brand of satire has always cut close to the bone and been politically on
point. But it’s never about offending to such an extent that it polarises. There
are areas he deliberately avoids —- racism and religion, for example.
It’s a minefield that Pieter has very skilfully negotiated over his career and something
that has become all the more onerous with the advent of social media.
“I have a definition: 49 percent anger, 51 percent entertainment. The other way around
doesn’t work. Then it’s a Penny Sparrow story. The red line of racism is very, very
sharp on the ground. That’s the discipline. You don’t cross that for an easy laugh.
“But the fact that people are reacting with such passion shows that satire works.
That’s the whole point of it. People say you mustn’t offend. I want to offend… everybody…
but not all of the time.
“But racism and sexism and all the -isms are a tremendous minefield that we have
to be very careful not to get swallowed up in.
“Social media has become the enema of society — een spuit en die poephol is vol!
When you look at all these issues, it is an enormous challenge.
“We have extraordinary freedom of expression, freedom of speech. In its different
disguises sometimes you think, please can we not have freedom of expression —- Mr
Theunissen, for example.” (That’s Matthew Theunissen, the man who took to Facebook
to use the K-word, castigating the government after Fikile Mbalula’s banning of various
sports codes from hosting international events.)
But for his next project, and in an almost biopic kind of way, Pieter is delving
into very personal terrain. Gone are the masks of Tannie Evita and the other characters
he has used as a security blanket over the years.
His new show The Echo of a Noise (Pieter-Dirk Uys unpowdered — at last!) starts at
the Theatre on the Bay from May 31.
It’s a stark scene on stage with the spotlight on Pieter sitting on a barstool, wearing
his famous black beanie and his “Almost Famous” sweatshirt, opening up about his
public and, until now, very private life.
“I am so pleased that I am still alive and sharp enough to balance stories into a
90-minute experience that I can share with people.
“People don’t know… I’ve been very, very private because I’m not the issue here.
But you reach a certain time when the audition is over and the disease to please
has been cured.”
So we get personal and Pieter starts speaking about his Pa, Hannes Uys, with whom
he had a difficult relationship .
It resonates because on the day of this interview my own father, Achmat Abarder,
celebrated his 73rd birthday.
My dad, until retiring very recently, was the ultimate provider. Growing up in Mitchells
Plain we never wanted for anything, and he and my mom Aleweya created opportunities
for my siblings and me to make something of our lives.
My dad, in particular, was so busy being the provider and creating opportunities
for us that we seldom connected as father and son.
Even now when I call home and he’ll pick up, he hands over the phone with a “Here’s
mom” after exchanging a few pleasantries.
I observe him now connecting with my children and see the father I never connected
with on an emotional level. The father that I, despite my crazy life as a journo,
want to be.
For Pieter, the father and son relationship was fraught because his choices didn’t
meet his dad’s expectations.
“I’ve always been behind something because in the beginning I was poep scared of
having anything to say. This is the first time I’m actually without the security
“It’s the story about me growing up in this country with extraordinary people around
me —- my ma, my pa and music, because they were both musicians. This celebration
of survival is the story about pa. I never thought I’d write about my pa. We never
got on until years later when he suddenly realised I was actually making money doing
what I was doing.
“What I noticed with the show, because I do some performances at the Perron as a
way of trying out new material, is how many people are sharing with me memories of
their parents, memories of tensions with the father.
“My mother committed suicide, so that’s something that doesn’t go away, no matter
how much you think time heals. And then up against this government of ooms because
my father’s cousin was the first National Party Prime Minister, Dr Malan, so I had
family in that laager.
“And so having the family saying: ‘What are you doing here?’ Being gay — also illegal
so you’re a criminal because you’re breaking the Immorality Act.
“And finding out apartheid was wrong… and getting to know people that were living
on the other side of the moon and they were just down the road.
“The theatre of course did a lot because when you study drama you study humanity
through the ages. If you fight it with anger, you get stopped.”
Pieter identifies with my relationship with my dad. Of course, my dad and I don’t
have to express our love and respect for each other verbally to know. But these days
the emotionally attentive father figure is a much-needed and rare commodity.
Pieter plays the father figure role in a somewhat different way with his activism
in the area of HIV/Aids promoting active citizenry and working against voter apathy.
But his latest work may be his most important yet. It’s a vehicle for opening up
dialogues on relationships we never had between father and son, as families, as a
nation. “Do you have a chance to sit down with your kids as parents and speak to
them? I didn’t. There were so many things I wanted to know that I didn’t ask. I was
“My mother was Jewish. We didn’t know until she died. She came from Berlin and the
Nazis chucked her out. But we never, never talked about those things.
“I think it was a generational thing. I think it’s different now. But it’s great
to remember and also to remind, especially the kids growing up. I’m finding families
are coming to the show. It’s about stories.
“My pa always said, ‘die vloek woorde. Sies! Dis onnodig.’
“He once said to me he comes to the show and I use these swear words and it’s like
I stick a finger in his eye. He’s so angry he can’t even see.
“ ‘Why don’t you use that finger to tickle me behind my ear and when I’m having a
nice time and when I want to see what is giving me the nice time I turn my head around
and my eye will find your finger. Don’t be obvious, find different ways’. That is
great advice. It is obviously a big signpost: the death of a parent. That tiny little
thing, that little comment, changes your life.”
Pieter doesn’t give himself enough credit. He is effortlessly and naturally funny.
Comedy has always been an important antidote for our most immense challenges as a
nation, and Pieter has been constant in our discourse — disarming even the most stoic
personalities and ideas with charm.
He is also an optimist about our country and where we’re headed.
“During apartheid everyone understood, even a 6-year-old wore a ‘Free Mandela’ T-shirt.
There was no redeeming feature.
“Then I had to speak on behalf of millions of people who didn’t have a voice. Now
it’s only my voice, my opinion in this democracy.
“In this country you have the right to disagree, I have to make you laugh at your
fear, and when you laugh at your fear you can’t be that frightened of it.
“It can still kill you, but you’ve looked it in the face.
“I must be honest with you, I never thought we whites would get away with apartheid.
I thought the hell was going to break loose because there was no apology for what
we were doing.
“We, me — I keep on saying I’m as responsible. When I went overseas people said,
ja maar… but where’s the cultural boycott? Why am I allowed here? They’d say but
you’re different. I’m not different. I’m a white Afrikaner, what makes me different?
“One has to take responsibility for the guilt, but the guilt can also be very creative
to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“I have to sometimes pull back from the political because one has to. Remember, for
every piece of bad news there are two pieces of good news. But they’re not easily
found because they’re busy working. Optimism is very important for me.
“But I think we’re in a pretty healthy state as a democracy. After 22 years of coming
out of something so terrifying and it will never be perfect. But the biggest problem
for me, where we are now, is that we, the citizens, are not doing our homework.
“There is just too many of my generation who are now CEOs or retired and who should
be giving thought in leadership and discussion who don’t want to know. That’s why
the entertainment industry is important for me to seduce people to come — knowing
that I will deliver, but I’ll also give them something to take home with them.
“Something that will make them say ‘Hey, I never thought of that’.”
Master storyteller, Pieter-Dirk Uys, picks up his own tale
– Debbie Hathaway, Financial Mail, 26 May 2016
FOR the first time in over four decades of show business, Pieter-Dirk Uys is shedding
the grease paint, false nails, big hair and high heels that have helped mould his
career as SA’s foremost satirist, to get a little (or a lot) more personal in his
autobiographical one-man memoir, The Echo of a Noise.
“In 40 years of performance, I’ve never done something like this,” says Uys. “I’ve
always written shows with characters and had various masks to wear and security blankets
to hide behind, but this time it’s just me and you.”
He began to conceptualise the production once he had the name. “I always start with
the title,” says Uys, “and I thought: what does it mean? Have I become the echo of
a noise of the past? Or am I the echo of a noise reinventing itself for the future?
Or is it the noise of my life — the music I grew up with because both my parents
were concert pianists and Mozart was my best friend? Or was it the noise from arguments
I had with my father? Or was it the noise of the National Party government saying
‘shut up, you may not do this’ and me saying ‘I will, I will, I will’?”At once candid
and intimate, Uys shares his memories as only a master storyteller can — with passion,
humour, intelligence and great sensitivity — while he reflects on his life, growing
up in SA; his parents; his “coloured mother” from Athlone (near Cape Town) who looked
after him for years and taught him to “speak Afrikaans properly with all the swear
words — and changed so much of my life“; breaking down the barriers of “separate
development” with humour; being “half Jewish, half German, half Afrikaans”.
Uys describes his father as a great jazz pianist and organist, an extrovert — Oom
Hannes, whom everybody loved, but “Pa was the one I fought with”. “We didn’t love
each other; we didn’t even like each other. But when my mother killed herself (she
jumped off Chapman’s Peak), it ended our lives. We had to start again, a different
relationship, without her.”
The family home was full of music. (Uys’s parents met as concert pianists performing
a Mozart double concerto at Cape Town City Hall.) “We had no TV but there were always
visitors, conversation and lots of laughter — not because things were funny but because
people were in charge of their fear. We were always allowed to be there as long as
we weren’t bored, having been told ‘if you’ve got something to say, make sure it’s
Uys arguably has a nose for fear and he takes inspiration from that. “If people are
scared of an opinion, let’s explore the opinion. If it offends people I’m glad. I
want to offend everybody, at least once, because it means I’ve rattled your cage.
I don’t want to insult anybody or demean them, or use all the ’isms.” This is the
man who wrote a character into his Sunday Express newspaper column to challenge the
status quo in the late 1970s and gave her life in 1982 as Tannie Evita Bezuidenhout,
the most famous white woman in SA.
Uys describes himself simply as an entertainer, someone who has to take audiences
out of their world and make them recognise things they don’t want to remember, using
humour to highlight things that are weird and obscene. He says his father’s cousin
was DF Malan, the first National Party prime minister in 1948 — “half the family
was in the other camp, so humour was a weapon of mass destruction and distraction”.
“I try not to take sides – it’s about equal opportunity satire, a delicate balance,
a constant reinvention. And I take nothing for granted; what was acceptable yesterday
might not be acceptable today. That is the bottom line.”
Uys lives in Darling, where his own Evita se Perron venue celebrates its 20th anniversary
this year, because he loves the fact that there’s so much fresh air. “I love the
people, the community, the children; it’s like a huge family. The cities are just
so big and the statistics are so terrifying. At least in Darling there are no statistics
and everybody has a name. And it’s just an hour from the airport, which means it’s
an hour away from New York.”
Tannie Evita takes centre stage for two or three shows a weekend (90 a year) when
Uys has no other theatre commitments, but fans can bank on at least a Sunday afternoon
performance or catch her reality show on YouTube. “It’s very much showing off in
the lounge — I walk down from my house and do the shows without the paraphernalia
of a commercial theatre,” says Uys.
Evita is never seen without heels, except on July 18 when she walks with the local
children to the animal shelter to devote 67 minutes to the pets in their care for
Mandela Day. “If Evita doesn’t look right, she’s wrong. And I’ve been known to diet
for her. I’m 80kg now, and she’s gorgeous at 80kg!” says Uys. “Women must recognise
the woman and men must forget the man. That’s always been the key to her look. I
spend a fortune on the shoes, because that’s the first thing women look at. If your
shoes are kak you’ve lost them. And women also notice the nails, and the jewellery.
But now less is more ... I have learnt from Sophia Loren, who at 81 is looking unbelievable,
with such class and a wonderful sense of style ...
“I think Sophia Loren saved my life when I was a little boy. I had a picture of Hendrik
Verwoerd on the wall because he was a ‘gift from God’ (according to my church and
school). Then I found a picture of this beautiful girl in Stage and Cinema magazine
and I cut it out and stuck it up on the wall and within two days Hendrik Verwoerd
fell off because her legs were better than his. I was 11 and she was 22,” says Uys.
The Echo of a Noise, on the other hand, is 70-75 minutes long — “a Game of Thrones
attention span, except there’s no violence and there are no dragons”.
“It’s interesting being on a stage without Evita, but it’s okay,” says Uys. “I feel
like a 12-year-old, [I’m so excited] to be able to share all these marvellous moments
with an audience ... and stories ... because actually that’s what it’s all about.”
• The Echo of a Noise (PG14) runs at the Theatre on the Bay in Cape Town from May
31 to June 18, Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm. Tickets cost from R100 to R160 via Computicket
on 0861 915 8000 or the box office on (021) 438-3301
Pieter-Dirk Uys Back on Stage in THE ECHO OF A NOISE at Theatre On The Bay
– Broadway World, 25 April 2016
Having performed alone on the stages of the world for well over seven thousand times,
Pieter-Dirk Uys has learnt that every show is the first and the last performance
– because each audience demands and gets a different energy, topicality and excitement.
This year, Uys will be back on stage at Theatre on the Bay in his autobiographical
one-man memoir, THE ECHO OF A NOISE.
Now in his seventieth year, Uys glances back not at the successes and failures that
have strengthened a belief that his work could constantly be improved, but rather
at those small signposts throughout his life that have subconsciously pointed him
in the right, original direction: his parents, his grandmothers, his teachers and
his passions – Sophia Loren, censorship, false eyelashes, and making a noise when
everyone demanded silence.
THE ECHO OF A NOISE strips away the trappings of Evita Bezuidenhout and Bambi Kellerman
to reveal Uys at his most candid. Uys reminisces about his childhood, on times when
he sang accompanied on the piano by his father, Hannes Uys, who he would come to
know as the harshest critic of his work. He reflects on his parents' deaths, on the
influence of his Afrikaans and German grandmothers and on his relationship with his
"Cape Flats mother", their housekeeper, Sannie. He recalls his own experience of
the horrors of apartheid, having broken the law when he contravened the Immorality
Act with a coloured gardener, with whom he shared the purest terror of being caught
by the police. The show becomes an archive of South African theatre history too,
with Uys remembering his first stage appearances and his ongoing clashes with the
all-powerful censor board of that era.
THE ECHO OF A NOISE will run at Theatre on the Bay from 31 May - 18 June, on Tuesdays
through Saturdays at 20:00. Tickets cost R100 - R160 and can be reserved via Computicket
online or by phone on 0861 915 8000 or 021 438 3301.
The Echo of a Noise: Voorste satirikus praat oor sy lewe
– Laetitia Pople, Die Burger, 9 Julie 2015
Die gordyn lig in die grootste teater op die Grahamstad-fees. Suid-Afrika se voorste
satirikus sit amper verdwerg op ’n kroegstoeltjie op die reuseverhoog.
Met ’n swart mus, sy Almost Famous-oortrektrui en glimlag lyk hy soos ’n ondeunde
dwerg wat deur die kollig betrap is. Binne oomblikke vul hy egter die hele ouditorium
met sy teenwoordigheid. Dit is net Uys aan die woord en hy maak sy hart oop oor sy
private en openbare lewe.
Die groot hare en baie bek van Evita Bezuidenhout of die rokerige draalstem van die
wulpse Bambi Kellerman is gebêre vir ’n ander keer.
Dit word gou duidelik dat die titel van sy biografiese eenmanvertoning, The Echo
of a Noise, nie reg laat geskied aan wat hy hier bied nie. Hy lei jou in sy binnekamer
rond, neem jou die geskiedenis in en wys waar die persoonlike en die openbare bymekaar
Vryheid van spraak is vanjaar die feesmotto en satire is hier sentraal in vertonings
geplaas. Uys se alter ego Evita Bezuidenhout pryk voor op die feesprogram. Uys was
en is soos ’n stem in die woestyn vandat hy vir die eerste keer in die 1960’s vreesloos
op ’n verhoog verskyn het. Hy skerts die destydse sensuurraad was sy eie persoonlike
skakelbeampte. Hulle het sy werk so flink verban, hulle het selfs ’n woord verbied
wat Uys self uitgedink het: Genotskrots.
Ons hoor ’n opname van Pietertjie wat soos ’n engeltjie gesing het, wat sy pa, Hannes
Uys, vergesel as hy Sondae oraloor in kerke gaan orrel speel het. Die pa vir wie
hy lief was, maar van wie hy nie gehou het nie. Die grootste kritikus van sy werk,
maar ook die een wat kon raad gee. Hy vertel hoe hy in sy laaste oomblikke by hom
was en hoe hy dan teruggegaan het huis toe waar Sannie vra of die “master’’ dan nie
wasgoed het nie.
Die gehoor verstil weer by sy rou vertelling van die selfmoord van sy Duitse ma,
Helga, en die durende, uiteenlopende invloede van sy Afrikaanse en Duitse oumas op
Sy eerste ware kennismaking met die gedrog apartheid was in sy vroeë twintigs toe
hy in ’n tuinier se kamer die Ontugwet oortree het. Hy vertel van die jong man se
naakte vrees dat die polisie hom by ’n wit man sou betrap. Hoe hy eintlik verjaag
is. Erger nog, hulle was besig om ’n “sonde in God se oë” te pleeg. Dit is asof Uys
deurentyd die gehoor in sy vertroue neem en só alle grense verbreek.
Hy bly ’n meesterstorieverteller, wat net so vinnig met homself spot soos met al
die ander wat onder sy tong deurloop.
Die stampvol ouditorium laat hoor ’n “Bravo, Pieter!” en staan soos een man op. Hierdie
was waarskynlik die 7 000ste solovertoning wat hy gelewer het, maar dit het gevoel
soos sy eerste . . . ’n Kunstenaar wat steeds ’n verkeersknoop buite ’n teater kan