*** 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.
Pieter-Dirk Uys’ ‘The Echo of Noise’ is poignant and powerful
– Estelle Sinkins, the luvvie, 2 August 2017
WEARING a black sweatshirt with the legend ‘Almost Famous’, Pieter-Dirk Uys makes
a quiet entrance on stage. Then, sitting on a stool in a pool of light, he begins
to speak. The story he weaves in The Echo of Noise is funny, sad, poignant and utterly
His relationship with his father drives most of the narrative, with the opening seconds
a recording of a young Uys singing, accompanied by his father, Hannes.
As a child he would travel around with his parents performing at weddings and on
the radio for pocket money. He was always dressed in a kortbroek (short pants) because
he says, Hannes was concerned that if he wore longs his voice would break!
As an Afrikaans family, church services were never an optional extra. And impressed
by the classy cars they drove and the dominee’s apparent cast iron entry into heaven,
Uys contemplated life as a pastor — or a steam train driver. The mind boggles at
the thought of the country’s best known satirist doing either job.
Growing up Uys and his father struggled to find anything in common. Hannes was a
strict disciplinarian, whose word was law; but also passionate musician, and the
life and soul of a party. Who was the real man? It took Uys a lifetime to truly find
Uys’ German-born mother, Helga, a talented pianist, was a loving and supportive presence,
even giving him a return ticket to Europe when he finished school. And when he chose
to be an actor, it was Helga who encouraged him to pursue his dream, despite opposition
He would later discover that she was a Jewess and that she had been forced to flee
the Nazis, with just her memories and a beloved piano, in the years leading up to
the Second World War.
Sadly, his mother reached a point where she could no longer cope with the world and
took her life at a viewing point on Chapman’s Peak. Decades later Uys continues to
miss her presence in his life.
Listening to Uys share stories of his parents in The Echo of Noise, you get a sense
that both had some slightly subversive tendencies. In Germany, Helga continued to
perform as a pianist in spite of being banned by the Nazis from doing so, and Hannes
— angered by the stupidity of the censors — told his son to make them look ‘belaglik’
The Publications Control Board, for whom Hannes worked, was the best public relations
team Uys ever had. And he admits that in his days at the Space Theatre, and later
at the Market Theatre, he went out of his way to tweak the National Party’s tail.
He was delighted to learn that one woman at the censor board had the task of writing
out every swear word he had used in a banned production — even writing a note to
him once to point out that he had spelt one of the words wrong. Uys and his friends
had these letters framed and hung in the loos at the Space Theatre.
The Market was where he started doing his satirical impersonations of those in power.
These now legendary sketches made the subjects look ridiculous and revealed the rank
stupidity of the apartheid system and its rules.
Uys’ alter ego, Evita Bezuidenhout, also appeared at this point and today has a life
practically independent from that of the man who created her. Word has it that the
Tannie might be throwing her hat into the ANC leadership ring!
Another key person in Uys life was Sannie, the family domestic, who was a staunch
ally when he was a child. She taught him the ‘real Afrikaans… the language of the
Cape Flats, which makes the angels laugh’ and together they would listen to her ‘stories’
on Springbok Radio.
More importantly it was Sannie who stepped in to help care for Hannes in his final
weeks and who remained a staunch supporter of ‘her other son’ until her death.
The Echo of Noise is, I believe, Uys’ finest work. He has dispensed with props and
costumes and given us the chance to learn a little about himself, his life away from
the stage and even his life-long love for Sophia Loren.
If, as he says life in the theatre has been, a life-time sentence, without hope of
parole — then we have been blessed that Uys has allowed us to share it with him.
The Echo of Noise is at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal
Howard College campus until August 6. Tickets at Computicket.
This wonderful trip down memory lane is a treasure and definitely a show not to be
– Dawn Haynes, artSMart, 30 July 2017
Sitting on a stool and talking for almost two hours may seem an unusual way to entertain,
but not if the person on the stool is Pieter Dirk Uys!
In his new show, The Echo of a Noise, Uys talks openly and honestly about his own
life, his family, his formative years. This is an amazing glimpse into what created
one of the most influential performers in South Africa.
Starting with his experiences as a boy of six years singing in church, the complexities
of his family are revealed. With a strict Afrikaans father whose only desire was
to play his piano but instead had to work daily in an office, and his mother, also
a talented pianist, who was a German Jew who had to flee Berlin at the start of World
War 2, his sister Tessa, a concert pianist and the lovable Malay housekeeper, Sannie,
we become part of his family as his life story unfolds.
He speaks honestly and openly about his difficulties coping with a lack of understanding
from his father, the unexpected suicide of his mother and his decision to follow
a career in drama instead of getting a “job with a steady salary”. His devotion to
Sophia Loren is refreshing and his sincere friendship with her was often his lifebelt.
His clashes with the Publications Board and his journey from acting, to playwright,
to satirist and finally to Evita, allow us an insight into this remarkable man who
has definitely left his imprint on millions.
The people who influenced him are all there and they come to life as his subtle changes
create each character during the narrative. For those of us who grew up in Apartheid
South Africa with Springbok Radio as our main form of entertainment, the memories
of this era flooded back. We laughed with him as we recalled similar moments in our
This reflective style of theatre is demanding on the performer, but Uys is a master
story teller whose characters are always entertaining and at the same time often
poignant. This wonderful trip down memory lane is a treasure and definitely a show
not to be missed.
The Echo of a Noise runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until August 6. Booking
is at Computicket.
He’s engaging, dramatic, poignant, bitingly satirical and hysterically funny — performing
the most riveting two hours without an interval. But you barely notice the time.
Don’t miss it!
– Caroline Smart, artSMart, 27 July 2017
The winner of a multitude of awards both here and internationally, Pieter-Dirk Uys
walks onto the Elizabeth Sneddon stage simply dressed in a black T-shirt, trousers
and beanie. The stage is bare except for a barstool but this lack of setting is barely
noticeable as he creates wonderful images in his descriptions of people and places.
Born in Cape Town, Uys comes from an exceptionally musical family. His home was a
thatched roof house in Pinelands in Cape Town. With a mixture of Afrikaans, German
and Jewish ancestry, he has a fabulous library of stories to draw on. His parents
— the highly popular (except to the young Pieter-Dirk) Hannes Uys, his mother Helga
Bassel — and his sister, Tessa Uys were all accomplished pianists who often played
together at orchestral concerts. Tessa is acknowledged as one of South Africa’s most
distinguished concert pianists and has gone on to make her name internationally.
It was a delight to learn of her childhood as well.
The beginning of the show takes us right back to his days as a 14 year-old. We listen
to a recording of him singing at the time — a pure clear soprano. He yearned for
long pants but it was thought this might cause his voice to break too soon! Memories
include ice cream after church and the steam trains passing by. He reminds us with
an ironic smile that he now owns his own station, the former Darling railway station
which is now Evita se Perron, his cabaret and theatre restaurant.
He talks about his mercurial relationship with his father and handles his death with
achingly beautiful emotion as he also does with the suicide of his mother.
A major influence on his life was the family’s domestic worker, Sannie, and the production
comes full circle from the apartheid days, when the colour of their skin kept them
apart, to the time when she really did become one of the family. He remembers her
with such fondness, particularly when she and her friend voted for the first time.
Another strong influence, but someone who became a lifelong friend, is film actress
Sophia Loren. Their relationship started with her simple reply to a star-struck young
boy urging him to be brave. He tells how he searched for her home in Rome by identifying
the buildings behind her in a photograph.
Memories pour forth of his early years. He was in the Navy but never set foot on
a ship although he highly enjoyed his time stationed on the Bluff! The times he spent
at the Space Theatre founded by Yvonne Bryceland and Brian Astbury in Cape Town in
1972 makes for a history book in itself. There is also much hilarity when he talks
about how he manipulated the posturing Publications Control Board!
This production doesn’t poke fun at today’s political climate but the apartheid government
and its leaders come in for a real whacking. There is only a very slight mention
of Evita Bezuidenhout. The title refers to the days when theatrical censorship abounded
but he refused to be silenced and insisted on making a noise! Thank heavens he did!
“Almost Famous” is written on his T-Shirt. “Almost”??? That’s a laugh. This is probably
one of the most famous people in South Africa — next to Evita Bezuidenhout, of course!
He’s engaging, dramatic, poignant, bitingly satirical and hysterically funny — performing
the most riveting two hours without an interval. But you barely notice the time.
The show has played to full houses and sold out seasons since it opened last year
in Cape Town — so don’t miss it!
The Echo of a Noise runs until August 6 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre in Durban
Pieter-Dirk Uys… at his very best in The Echo of a Noise. The show, reflecting on
his past, is in Durban until August 6.
– Billy Suter, sosuterbill.com, 27 July 2017
A NATIONAL treasure, a theatre legend, a master craftsman, a constant inspiration
and a genuinely nice guy, Pieter-Dirk Uys delivers his most poignant and gripping
work to date with The Echo of a Noise.
Since opening at Theatre on the Bay in Cape Town last year, the show has played to
full houses and sold-out seasons. I first saw it at last year’s Hilton Arts Festival
at Hilton College, and enjoyed it again, every bit as much, on opening night in Durban
This is an understated but towering show that has the almost-72-year-old Uys defrocked,
unpowdered, real and vulnerable… calling back his past with vivid vignettes, often
with his customary mischievous twinkle, and also ploughing patches of pathos. Little
wonder his performance spurred an instant standing ovation — both at Hilton last
year and at the opening performance in Durban.
The Echo of a Noise opens with a scratchy recording of Uys singing as a boy, then
has him arriving on stage in black trousers, black beanie and a black T-shirt with
“Almost Famous” on the front of it.
Pieter-Dirk Uys with his mother, Helga.
His smile draws enthusiastic applause as he sits on a chair placed centrestage in
front of a curtain, and mimes along with the words of the song …and then goes on
to hold the audience tightly in the palms of his hands.
Without an interval, he enthusiastically dips into colourful, detailed memories of
his early days with family in a thatched-roof home in Pinelands in Cape Town. He
starts off recalling his longing for long pants as a 14-year-old, when two of his
greatest pleasures were watching trains pass by, and waving to passengers; and scoffing
rum and raisin ice-cream after church each Sunday.
Also high on his memory list is playing with Dinky cars in the garden of his home,
where he always half-heartedly went about his regular chore of watering the lawn.
There are many wonderful stories he shares, and in between the joy and amusement
there are tender, raw moments of sad reflection, not least the suicide of his Berlin-born
mother, Helga Bassel, and the failing health of his father, Hannes Uys, over a festive
season shortly before his death.
Uys also looks back in detail and with great fondness on his relationship with his
beloved, Athlone-born Sannie, the family’s coloured domestic worker who clashed with
Pieter-Dirk’s father but was always available for the family, ruling the kitchen
like a fortress. The sharing of memories of Uys and her, in her Sunday best, voting
together for the first time is a highpoint of a show filled with glistening nuggets
Uys discusses his father’s resentment of his son following a drama career and how
they eventually patched that up. He touches on his move to and years in London, as
well as his decades-long fascination for and letter-writing to actress Sophia Loren,
now a friend.
He recalls his grandmothers, his teachers, his pianist sister Tessa, his passions,
his rocking the boat with friends on the theatre scene while showing a middle finger
to apartheid laws and censorship. He recalls failures, successes and regrets. And
he touches on lipstick and false eyelashes… and making a noise when everyone demanded
He is simply superb in a show that is in town until August 6. Do not miss this masterful
storyteller on fine form with a story laden with wit and wisdom. Booking is at Computicket
Pieter Dirk Uys enthralls audience with solo performance
Echo of a Noise, the latest performance by Pieter Dirk Uys at the Sneddon offers
audiences great insight into the life of this veteran theatre personality.
– Wanda Daly, Berea Mail, 27 July 2017
POIGNANT, funny and nostalgic are just some of the emotions that ran through me last
night as I watched veteran theatre personality, Pieter Dirk Uys in his latest performance,
The Echo of a Noise at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at UKZN’s Howard College campus.
I have to confess, I’m a huge fan and try not to miss any of his performances when
he is in Durban, but last night’s solo act is probably the most memorable as he shared
his personal history with such a profound sense of honesty that at times I was moved
From his childhood dreams of wanting to become a steam train driver to his stormy
relationship with his Afrikaans father and his deep love for his German-born Jewish
mother whose tragic suicide is told with such great sensitivity and love, the audience
was captured for the full two-hour monologue. Not only does he share his treasured
family memories, but also his quest to meet one of the great loves in his life, Italian
actress Sophia Loren. He acknowledges with great affection the influence of Sannie
— the coloured maid who worked for the family at their home in Pinelands in the Cape
— had on his life and his work and shares the endearing tale of how she became not
only part of the family, but a great friend.
Of course a night with Pieter Dirk Uys is not complete without some political commentary
and his tales of the struggle with the then National Party Censor Board and the courage
it took to stand up against the draconian laws of segregation are shared with wicked
I discovered a lot about Pieter Dirk Uys in those two hours, I could happily have
sat for another two hours for more from this entertaining storyteller and performer.
Do yourselves a favour, get tickets to the show, you won’t be disappointed.
Legendary satirist, Pieter-Dirk Uys, returns to Durban with his most intimate show
yet — ‘The Echo of Noise’
– Estelle Sinkins, The Luvvie, 20 July 2017
THE legendary Pieter-Dirk Uys brings his one-man memoir, The Echo of Noise, to the
Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from July 25 to August 6.
In the show South Africa’s foremost satirist sits on a barstool and opens his heart
about his private and public life leading the audience into his inner-sanctuary with
stories that can evoke surprise, laughter and tears.
Now in his 71st year, Uys doesn’t glance back at the successes and failures that
have strengthened his belief in a constant improvement of his work, but at those
small signposts that throughout his life subconsciously pointed him in a right and
original direction: his father Hannes Uys and his mother Helga Bassel; his grandmothers,
his teachers, his passions, Sophia Loren, censorship, false eyelashes and making
a noise when everyone demanded silence.
In a story that aches to be heard, Uys has always used humour as a “weapon of mass
distraction” and his latest offering is no different. Since opening The Echo of a
Noise he has played to full houses and sold out seasons.
The laughter he evoked as a relief from the fears that shaped South African society
in 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. His masterful story-telling, wit and wisdom are generously
shared. As with so many of his performances he takes his audiences into his confidence,
breaks the rules and crosses boundaries.
Tickets for the show are available from Computicket. For block bookings only contact
Ailsa Windsor of Going Places at email@example.com, or 083 250 2690.
For more information visit http://www.pdu.co.za or you can follow weekly episodes
of ‘Evita’s Free Speech’ on YouTube every Sunday.
BILLY SUTER interviews master satirist PIETER-DIRK UYS, whose widely acclaimed new
stage work, The Echo of a Noise, is at Durban’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from July
25 to August 6. It is a riveting one-man memoir in which the now 71-year-old Uys
sits on a barstool, opens his heart and talks about his private and public life,
leading the audience into his inner-sanctuary with stories that evoke surprise, laughter
– Billy Suter, sosuterbill.com, 13 Jly 2017
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT OF YOUR NEW SHOW — WHERE DO YOUR MEMOIRS START AND END? AND WHAT
ARE SOME THINGS THAT MIGHT SURPRISE US?
It’s the first time I’ve ventured onto a stage ‘unpowdered’! No security blankets
of wigs, lipsticks, politics or punchlines. Just the story behind the stories.
I suppose it starts and ends with now — looking back at 71 and looking forward to
72. I find many surprises in the reactions of audiences.
It is probably the most universal thing I have ever written, as everyone shares a
father, a mother, a childhood, dreams, pain and joy — in different ways to mine.
Yet my story seems to have many windows for people to look through and see their
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO CREATE THIS MEMOIR — AND WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND MOST CHALLENGING
AND/OR CATHARCTIC ABOUT IT?
The title set it off: what does it mean? Was I the echo of a noise from the past?
Or the echo of a noise reinventing itself for a future? Or the noise of forbidden
laughter then — and now?
And then my father stepped into my picture, and my relationship with him and our
housekeeper from Athlone, Sannie Abader, became the backbone to the story.
I see the piece guided by the small signposts that changed my life — a word there,
a punishment there. And mainly the sound of laughter even when nothing was funny.
WHAT DO YOU CHAT ABOUT IN THE SHOW?
I think now that I’ve passed that road sign that says You can speed over 70 now.
I can leave the security blankets of characters and the disguise of monsters, madams
and moffies, and just tell the stories behind the story.
I am amazed how many people are sharing my stories of being a young boy in that old
South Africa, fighting with a strict father, adoring a mother who allowed me to enjoy
and not to fear.
How the bumble-bee of theatre stung me and changed my life. How censorship from a
humourless government gave me the courage to use their violence and reinvent humour
at their expense.
How a beautiful film star in Rome became my friend and mentor. And how hanging onto
the southern tip of Africa by Evita’s fingernails still fills me with the delight
and excitement I have enjoyed throughout my life — being unemployed, unapologetic,
untidy and unafraid; never shy to admit that my glass will always be half full and
never half empty.
WHAT SORT OF THINGS HAVE YOU HEARD FROM AUDIENCE MEMBERS AFTER THEY SAW THIS SHOW…
ANY ONE COMMENT IN PARTICULAR, PERHAPS, THAT STANDS OUT?
An 11-year-old chappie waited for me after a show, and once we did the selfie, he
said: “I loved the pictures”. I said: “There are no pictures on the stage”. He said:
“No, the pictures in my head”. And once an old lady just shook her head at me and
said: “No, you’re definitely mad”. Good observations from both!
OF ALL YOUR MEMORIES OF YOUR PARENTS, OF WHICH ARE YOU MOST FOND?
Music. They were both pianists and I grew up with Mozart as my best friend. Even
today I have a soundtrack in my head while I do everything. It creates the atmosphere
for my life, especially when I write.
WHAT DO YOU MOST MISS FROM CHILDHOOD — AND ALSO YOUR TEEN YEARS?
I miss nothing because it’s as pointless as tweeting about colonialism! But then
I did miss my hair when I started losing it at the age of 18. But imagine what a
different life I would have had with thick, long, glossy, blonde hair?
And maybe I was fortunate to be so nervous about sex, otherwise a virus would have
got me in the early 1980s.
IN THE SHOW YOU TOUCH ON YOUR SWOONING OVER FILM STAR SOPHIA LOREN. TELL US ABOUT
THAT — AND HOW YOU GOT TO MEET HER.
I cut a picture of her out of Stage and Cinema magazine in 1957 and stuck it up on
the wall of the room next to that gift from the gods, Hendrik Verwoerd… and the next
day he fell off the wall and stayed off! She stayed on — and saved my life.
I met her in Paris in 1975 and when she walked into her lounge it was as if a picture
had floated off my wall.
We talk often and she’s in the documentary film released last year. That’s a dream
WHERE AND WHEN WAS ‘ECHO OF A NOISE’ FIRST STAGED — AND WHERE WAS IT STAGED IMMEDIATELY
BEFORE THE DURBAN SEASON?
It was meant to be a once-only performance at the 2015 National Arts Festival, in
the 1000-seater Guy Butler Auditorium — but when that huge audience rose and screamed
as if I’d won the Soccer World Cup, I realised that here was something worth pursuing.
I have performed it in Pieter Toerien’s Joburg and Cape Town theatres and did one
performance in Berlin a few months ago. It is going be part of my life for the rest
of my life.
The day before I leave for the Sneddon I will be doing the show at Evita se Perron
in Darling. That’s where I developed it since 2015.
WHERE TO FOR THE SHOW AFTER DURBAN AND FOR HOW LONG — AND TO WHERE — DO YOU INTEND
TOURING IT FURTHER?
I will take it to various festivals — also in Afrikaans, as Weerklink van ’n Wanklank
— and there are plans for a London and New York season in 2018. I am happy to be
back in Durban with something so new and different.
DOES THIS WORK PERHAPS MARK A NEW WAY FORWARD FOR YOU ON STAGE? ARE YOU PERHAPS PLANNING
TO EXPLORE NEW THEATRICAL THEMES?
I always hope to surprise not only my audience but myself. The major focus on local
politics is a politically-correct minefield and less attractive — and frankly too
So I prefer telling stories in the lives of the people and not just the spin from
the mouths of the politicians. I have counted up to 80 characters in my satirical
cluster since starting in 1981 and I have a few more getting ready to pop out of
And Evita Bezuidenhout is alive and well and, who knows, maybe a good foil for the
potential powers of Nkozasana Dlamini-Zuma’s lofty ambitions?
DO YOU STILL GET OPENING NIGHT NERVES AFTER 45 YEARS ON STAGE?
I am excited on opening nights, because excited means I can do it; nervous means
I can’t. The feeling is still the same: you want to ‘kots’ and ‘poep’ and run, but
there’s a smile on your face and your tail is wagging.
OF THE MANY CHARACTERS YOU HAVE PLAYED OVER THE YEARS WHICH THREE ARE YOUR PERSONAL
That’s like saying to a parent: which child is your favourite? I think my female
characters are the most entertaining — Nowell Fine, Mrs Petersen, Bambi Kellermann
and, of course, that most famous white woman in LuthuliHouse.
WHAT CHARACTER YOU HAVE PLAYED HAS BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT TO PORTRAY?
I think playing Pieter-Dirk Uys has been the most difficult, and so I had to create
him to give me the courage to portray him clearly and with confidence.
WHAT IS THE BEST COMPLIMENT (AND ALSO THE MOST NOTABLE PUTDOWN) YOU EVER GOT FROM
SOMEONE YOU SATIRISED?
When dressed as Evita Bezuidenhout, I whispered to Nelson Mandela “President Mandela,
every time you see me, I am dressed as Evita!” He whispered back: “Don’t worry, Pieter,
I know you’re inside!”
WOULD YOU LABEL YOURSELF AS SOUTH AFRICA’S MOST FAMOUS DRAG ARTIST?
I hope not. I have great respect for classy drag and how much work and detail goes
into it. My venture into female impersonation is just that: I am performing a character.
The reality of Evita Bezuidenhout is surreal and thrilling: just because she doesn’t
exist doesn’t mean she is not real. And when I perform her, I must make her so real
that the women recognise the woman and the men forget the man.
WHAT ARE FIVE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF (HOWEVER TRIVIAL) THAT PEOPLE ARE UNLIKELY TO
I get out of the swimming pool when it rains, in case I get wet.
I avoid crowds, except in the theatre when we are happily divided by a safe ‘fourth
I am intolerant of lateness dressed up as style, and stupidity disguised as policy.
I have great respect for any faith and carefully suspicious of all religions.
I’ve been unemployed since 1975 and so had to become my job.
YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT ON A STAGE?
Having to perform other people’s bad writing and make it sound better. I don’t do
that anymore. Rather stick to my own weaknesses and make them strong and memorable.
ARE YOU WORKING ON ANY NEW SHOWS OR PROJECTS THAT YOU CAN TELL US ABOUT?
I am always working on three or four things at the same time… so that if I stall
on the play, I pick up on the novel. And there’s always that wonderful moment of
an old Bette Davis movie and no work.
HOW HAVE AUDIENCES CHANGED OVER TIME?
I always believe that every audience is unique. And because so much of my work is
based on and inspired by the events of the day, the emotional temperature varies
from sketch to sketch.
In the old days of darkness, the few theatres I was allowed into — The Space, the
Market and the Elizabeth Sneddon in Durban — protected the small flames of free
speech. There we played to the converted.
But slowly I managed to subvert the resistance and then played the Pretoria Opera
House and the Nico Malan in Cape Town.
I understood my collegues’ discomfort at not boycotting those venues, but that is
where I needed to be: in the armpit of the enemy, making them laugh at themselves
and maybe realise how ridiculous their superiority was in the eyes of relatively
Today what I say on stage is only my opinion and voice because happily everyone has
the freedom of expression in tone and tweet.
OF ALL THE MANY FAMOUS FOLK YOU HAVE MET, WHAT THREE PEOPLE HAVE MOST LEFT AN IMPRESSION
ON YOU — AND WHY?
Nelson Mandela and his sense of humour that healed a world; Sophia Loren with her
common sense and kindness that stole my heart; and Desmond Tutu whose leadership
by example proves that there is goodness galore if you look for it.
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘VASTLY OVERRATED’?
Social media. The marriage of Putin and Trump. BEE. Game of Thrones. South Africa’s
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING SOMEONE HAS SAID OF YOU?
Are you related to P W Botha?
WHAT TRAITS DO YOU MOST DISLIKE IN OTHERS?
Noise. Racism. Dom-astrantheid. Moaners. Those who dislike cats.
WHAT ARE TWO OF YOUR MOST TREASURED MATERIAL POSSESSIONS?
My British Airways silver Avios-card. The computer stick with all my plays on it.
IF YOU COULD CHANGE THREE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
Sorry. Nothing to list here. What you see is what I’ve got.
TWO HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR CAREER?
Tonight’s show — because every show is a first and a last one, because every show
has a different audience, so how can it be the same? I have done over 7000 performances
alone on stage and yet each one is the highlight of my life. Till the next one.
‘I’d rather stick to the stage than be brained by a flying red hardhat’
– Pieter-Dirk Uys, The Mercury, 6 July 2017
The Echo of a Noise is the story of a life well-lived — a boy from Pinelands who
grew up in a fractured society blessed with parents who brought music and love into
the family. A boy who was stricken by the disease to please from an early age, overshadowed
by church and school and a very strict father, and yet finding inspiration and excitement
through his fantasies and imagination.
The topics in the story will be shared by most of the audience: father, mother, sister,
cat, swopping comics, seeing movies, Mozart, Elvis, something called sex, something
named death, something remembered as love, laughter and maybe a tear — but throughout
all the familiar noises of life that eventually create a symphony of celebration.
I have never had the courage to get out from behind the masks and facades of the
many characters I have performed on stage for over 7000 times. They were mainly there
to focus on political madness and mirth. This is the first time I tell the story
behind the stories. Maybe turning 71 has given me the thumbs-up to share the secrets
and let the cat and her kittens out of the bag. I think the restrictions I was faced
with as a writer and performer especially during the National Party years, helped
me create possibilities of confronting them through unexplored avenues — in my case,
using humour as a weapon of mass distraction.
People seldom expect to remember what they laughed at, unless to tell the joke to
someone else. Not everything is funny. To laugh at fear could help make that fear
less fearful, and let's face it, our lives in South Africa during the 50s, 60s, 70s,
and 1980s were shaped by fears. Laughter was a relief. It still is. And Evita was
just one of those characters who eventually stepped out of the satirical cluster
and became the most famous white woman in South Africa — then and now.
Of course reaction to my work has changed over the years. I expect my audience to
change from performance to performance, because the material is based on the news
of the day and often the prejudices we all have to face when confronted with so many
choices, especially in this democracy that constantly demands change of mind and
opinion. Theatre is live; news is live — and yet entertainment demands more than
just headlines. My characters have to be familiar and representative of the many
areas of conflict. I try and keep to the balance of 49% anger versus 51% entertainment.
Then and now.
The coming of the Age of Trump has also added another nipple to the teat of inspiration.
Suddenly, though not for the first time, the leader of a first world democracy has
the IQ of an artichoke and the cheek of a drunk. He has brilliantly reinvented the
alphabet of political communication by dropping all the vowels of balance and detail,
while focusing on the consonants of racism, bigotry, lies and spin. Goofy has left
Disneyland and moved into the Oval Office.
The TV classic ‘West Wing’ now presents a new reality series, this time without the
frown of concern, but with the shriek of mad laughter. I am thrilled by it all! Just
put my orange pussy on my head, clench my fists into small claws ideal for groping
and grabbing, and structure a presidential speech of half-sentences, quarter-answers
and nano-hope. In an upside-down society the lowest common denominator floats on
top. Enter The Donald followed by The Melania and The Tailwagging Trumpettes. Satire
never had it so good.
The Protection of State Information Act has been passed by Parliament and just awaits
President Zuma’s signature — and he has been practising. Once he signs it into law
and I on stage pass comic comment on an ANC government that is corrupt, inept and
careless, I will get into serious trouble because I have just given away a state
secret. Now because of the pending law against hate speech, if I pay tribute to the
inspiration of politicians who are like monkeys, because the higher they climb the
pole of ambition, the more of their arses we can see — I will be liable for a jail
term. Never a dull moment in a country of free speech.
But as I've been doing what I do since 1968, exercising my freedom of expression
has become a full-time commitment and because it is always reinventing itself, theatre
keeps me on my toes and living in the moment. The great library of stories that have
been shared from the stage through the ages, has done so much to allow us in the
audience to confront the drama of life: of relationships, of pain, of turmoil and
strife. And of course, the release of tensions through laughter, either through the
belly-laugh of via comedy or the cringing pain of humour.
** Politics has today become pure theatre, but I would rather stick to the stage
than be brained in Parliament by a flying red hardhat!"
– Pieter-Dirk Uys
(follow the latest episode of Evita's Free Speech on YouTube every Sunday)
** Pieter-Dirk Uys will be performing his one-man memoir THE ECHO OF A NOISE at the
Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from 25 July – 6 August. Book Computicket
Review: THE ECHO OF A NOISE. A One-man memoir written and performed by Pieter-Dirk
– Sheila Chisholm, Weekend Special, 7 July 2017
Oom Hannes, or Pa as Pietertjie called him, threw a riot when, after matriculating,
his son went to UCT to register for a “noble” teachers’ training profession. Instead,
he switched to “die duiwel’s” BA Drama — and got thrown out of the house for his
This was only one occasion Pieter-Dirk Uys crossed swords with his father. He loved
him, but only learned to like him later — big difference. On the other hand he loved
his mother deeply, German born pianist Helga Bassel. One could feel his pain as,
perched alone and lonely on a high stool centre stage, he related how devastated
he was, and still is, by her suicide on 26 May 1969. Those were a couple of the
more serious moments in Uys’ memoirs,The Echo of a Noise, he didn’t wrap up in humour.
From the DR Church to Sophia Loren
As Uys took us through his early childhood at 10 Homestead Way, Pinelands, regularly
sitting beside Pa at the organ on Sundays at the DR Church, and his passion for Sophia
Loren, one story stood out. Uys talked about his Oom Andre’s “knee and hand” problem.
“Oom Andre had a funny twitching knee. I was often placed beside him at meals, and
his knee continually bumped mine. The more (surreptitiously) I pulled away, the more
Oom Andre’s knee found mine. So too his hand, which often fell on my thigh. When
I told Ma, she said nothing, but I no longer sat next to Oom Andre. Ma was one mother
who listened, then acted, when told a close family member was getting too close to
her child.” If more did there would be fewer abused children. Listening is vital
to preventing abuse.
Disappointed Uys’ father may have been by Pietertjie studying acting rather than
formally following a teacher’s calling. But it’s doubtful if there is a greater teacher
in this country than Pieter-Dirk Uys. Through his acting, his stories, his Evita
Bezuidenhout and Bambi Kellermann persona, he has taught countless South Africans
more about the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, the disgrace of Apartheid,
and the ongoing corruption of this present government. His leading role in teaching/acting
out condom use to school children has saved countless lives. Not to mention favourably
turning round narrow-minded attitudes concerning people who are different to ourselves.
What a gift!
Pieter-Dirk Uys has a knack for knocking life into perspective. Even as we laughed
we left The Echo of a Noise much wiser, with thanks for the gift of this teacher/philosopher/actor/satirist/humourist.
Long may Pieter-Dirk Uys remain our moral signpost.
Spotlight: Pieter-Dirk Uys, the man behind the powder and The Echo of a Noise
– Barbara Loots, Theatre Scene Cape Town, 5 July 2017
Pieter-Dirk Uys, known for his sharp-witted satire and colourful characters (who
to the delight of many an audience calls a political spade a shovel), steps out from
behind the powder and personas to reveal the man that is the commentary in his beautifully
nostalgic one-man show, The Echo of a Noise.
Recently addressing a group of drama students, he implored them, “The last thing
we want is another f*cken actor. Are you going to be another actor? Don’t! If you
are going to be a unique voice in theatre, you will be and the world will listen
to you. But don’t be a copy, you’ll stand in the queue with lots of copies and copies
With that creative insight and understanding of uniqueness as the backbone to his
career, just another actor is the last thing you will find onstage in The Echo of
a Noise. Uys in fact shares that one of his drama lecturers told him, “oh darling,
you’ve got no talent, you must become a stage manager”. Taking that advice, he became
a fully qualified stage manager, embracing the most critical and too often overlooked
job in the industry. That initial insult turned out to be a blessing that has since
empowered and propelled him to become so much more than just another actor, that
and being unemployed since 1975, which Uys jests “does help! I am my job, I don’t
wait for a job.”
Over the years he has been described as an actor, and also an author and an activist.
He however doesn’t relate to any of these labels. “I’m an entertainer”, he unwaveringly
declares, “that’s what I want to be known as.”
When talking to him about the importance and the place of theatre, one soon realises
why the title of entertainer is indeed the perfect fit. Uys revels in the power of
“Theatre has been around for more than 2000 years, and it adapts to the good times
and the bad times. It reflects the cracked mirror of society. We — who actually ignore
what the theatre demands — will die, but the theatre will live on… It is an extraordinarily
primitive and eternal means of communication. And of course in this crazy world where
everybody is so stressed, there is something amazingly neutral in a theatre… It is
about telling the story, and that is what I love.”
This theatrical love affair he now delicately translates to the stage in The Echo
of a Noise, baring his soul to the audience through his own narrative... No Tannie
Evita, Bambi or Pik. As a creative who has through the years told so many stories
about South Africa through his characters, what makes The Echo of a Noise such a
special theatre experience is that it shows you the man behind his unique style,
because as Uys proclaims, “it is time”.
The personal journey so revealed does not only resonate with South Africans, who
regard him as a national treasure, but have also been well received by international
audiences. Uys tells that before this current Theatre on the Bay run, he took the
production to Germany and realised why this very personal telling appeals across
borders, “it is the story, it is universal and not time-based, it doesn’t have to
be topical. And that is the universal heart-beat of theatre. It can go on with me
Theatre is also the right medium for this one-man conversation between Uys and his
audience. “If I give them 60% they give me 40%, if I give them 40% they give me 60%”,
he explains the crux of this partnership that he genuinely values. “People sit, they’ve
chosen to sit there, they’ve paid for it. The most valuable thing is their time;
it is not their money… It is just wonderful to look at an audience who gives me their
time, and in my case [in return] I make them laugh at things they don’t want to think
It also allows for a truly personal experience where Uys as entertainer can feel
a connection with his audience on a different level that is more than just punchline
generated laughs, which arguably television can also give them. “The camera takes
everything from you and gives you nothing back — that is the terrifying thing about
film — that’s why Marilyn Monroe killed herself, because there was no one there to
hug her”, he insightfully comments. “That is what the life of theatre does to me.
It is my lifeblood, and it is a great therapy, and it is great discipline. That is
what it is, hard work and discipline.”
When you sit down at Theatre on the Bay, the experience of a great, comforting hug
is perhaps the best way to describe The Echo of a Noise. That hug is an ode to storytelling
in service of the theatre and in memory of the family and life that helped shape
Uys as an all-round creative.
But why do you as audience member also feel the warmth and comfort of that hug? Relatability.
Even though it is not your story, sitting in the audience you somehow naturally feel
invested in his tale. Even if your previous Uys encounters have only been through
his character Evita Bezuidenhout, you will still feel a strong connection with the
story of young Pietertjie, as Uys shares his memories, because as he best phrases
it, “some people grew up with [Tannie Evita] on their walls at home, the same way
I grew up with Sophia Loren”.
What shines through like a theatre beacon in this show, is that — regardless of the
sadness and loss he has experienced throughout his life — he lives and performs with
a clear, jovial mind-set: “49% anger, 51% entertainment, not the other way around,
because shouting doesn’t work.” Uys explains that the decision to always let positivity
triumph is based on a “tremendous belief in goodness, optimism and hope. What is
the point of falling prey to negativity? And the theatre by nature is optimistic”.
In elaborating on this character trait that he shares with theatre as an art form,
he ponders why Les Miserables as a musical came into being. “What?”, Uys excitedly
exclaims as he dramatizes the moment of its conceptualisation, “About the French
Revolution? Nonsense!” he declares. “And then it comes together… so everything about
it says it’s not going to work, but then there is one thing that says it will work
and that is the imagination! It’s going to work! And it does work! So theatre is
every night when you come in and you think, ‘It’s going to work!’ I’m an addict,
a terminal optimist. Not that I pretend to be Julie Andrews or Doris Day,” he with
great respect to the dames qualifies. “Sometimes I think my definition of optimism
means I expect the worst, hoping that the worst will not be as bad as I imagined.
And so far, so good.”
Given that The Echo of a Noise is so balanced as a show, both filled with realism
and depth, while presented with positivity and imagination, what then is a highlight
moment for Uys himself when performing it?
“I think the most wonderful moment”, reflecting on his playwright ‘relationship’
with the literature police during the apartheids era, “is to say what the lady typist
at the Censor Board typed… ‘Mnr Uys, u spel die word f*k met ‘n f, nie ‘n v nie’…
and the whole audience just … *gyuh* … it puts it all into a nutshell. It puts censorship,
it puts fear, it puts power, it puts swearing, it puts EVERYTHING together… you could
practically see the frown in the letters. ‘If you want to do it you must do it proper,
dis die taal!’”
Apart from that uber pedantic and highly entertaining linguist from his past, you
will also see the very personal side of Uys, which includes his conversations with
a cat on Table Mountain, seeing his sister follow in his parents’ footsteps to become
a great pianist, as well as learn more about his fascination with and love for trains.
That love ultimately led him to his home (and own theatre, Evita se Perron), in the
quaint little town of Darling. Drawing on that part of his life, he shares that he
is now working on a new show called, When In Doubt, Say Darling.
But that is not all audiences can look forward to from Uys in 2018. When people walk
out of The Echo of a Noise, they want to hear more about the heart-warming and poignant
stories as seen through the eyes of Uys, something you but get a glimpse of in the
show itself. As he admits, if he shares more (or all) details onstage, then that
glimpse would turn into a 14 hour long show. So to give people more than but an echo,
he is currently working on turning it into a beautiful book, incorporating the script
itself alongside more details and pictures.
It is exciting to listen to Uys talk about his past and future projects with so much
passion. He is truly a walking example of why theatre will never fade or die, because
entertainers like Uys will always have stories to tell. I for one can’t wait to put
my pre-order in for the book that accompanies my favour Pieter-Dirk Uys show to date,
The Echo of a Noise. You can experience this insightful one-man show at Theatre on
the Bay until 15 July 2017, with tickets available at Computicket.
ONE of my favourite stories about Tannie Evita is how she would “mince” down Station
Road in Darling on her way to the Perron, on her high heels, dressed up for her role
on stage. As she passed the NG Kerk, a landmark to what platteland conservatism is
all about in this West Coast part of the world, the mense emerging from the morning
service would greet her warmly, shouting across the church yard: “Middag Tannie.
While the above may sound like an urban legend, it’s true. One of the remarkable
things about a village like Darling is that even in the old days, when Pieter-Dirk
Uys moved there 20 years ago, it didn’t take long for him to creep into the hearts
of the villagers, verkrampte or not. In the first years of the new millennium, Uys
and I were virtual neighbours, living 100m apart in the same road in our respective,
renovated, Victorian-style houses.
And when you live in Darling, it’s inevitable that wherever you go you see him, either
in civvies or in full costume at the theatre as one of his alter egos. Usually it’s
Uys, beanie on head, going about his day, walking to and from the local Spar.
Darling over the years has played host to dozens of events featuring the country’s
most well-loved woman. One of the most memorable was how the town turned out a few
years ago to watch her open Tannie Evita Boulevard, close to the Perron.
As she was driven slowly up the Hoof Weg, in a topless vintage car, sitting on the
back seat flanked by two of her many grandchildren, the crowds lining the road cheered
and clapped. As one of the veteran residents said at the time: “Where else in the
world would you get a street named after a non-existent woman?”
This year sees Uys celebrating 45 years on stage, and in The Echo of a Noise, which
returns to the Theatre on the Bay later this month, there will be no alter-ego, no
Tannie Evita, just Uys as himself.
It was certainly not the first time we got together for an interview when we met
at Arnold’s on Kloof Street last week to chat about his life in theatre and his solo,
Looking back so personally on his life, there are issues that still cut deep, and
Uys says: “It’s been amazing to have written a whole show without writing about politics.”
The Echo of a Noise had a soldout season at the Theatre on the Bay last year, in
which audiences were taken through this frankly told journey of his life.
Drinking a cup of his favourite brew — rooibos — with a blue beanie on his head,
Uys’s eyes sparkle. In his illustrious career, Uys says he’s performed on the stages
of the world more than 7 000 thousand times.
“But I have learnt that every show is the first and the last performance — because
each audience demands and gets a different energy, topicality and excitement.”
In Echo, there’s none of the silky repartee of Tannie Evita nor the smoky drone of
the sexy Bambi Kellerman.
“For almost two hours I sit on a bar stool, and there’s no interval. I just talk
— there are no costumes, and it’s all so refreshing,” he says.
Now in his 71st year, he says those signposts that have subconsciously pointed him
in the right direction, without measuring up successes or failures, may be rooted
in the fact that as a child there was no losing.
“My mother would say at the eistedfodds we’d perform in, where Tessa would play the
piano and I would sing, ‘if you win you get one ice cream; if you lose you get two’.”
In the play there are no holds barred as he relates events from his past — his difficult
relationship with his father Hannes Uys who, he says, threw him out of the house
as a young man but also taught him to laugh at fear. A father he loved but didn’t
like, who was his sternest critic but also gave him some sage advice.
As we chat he also remembers Sannie the housekeeper whom he unfolds on stage as “the
woman who loved us to laugh at her, and cooked like a dream and was my Cape Flats
When he first appeared on the stage as a satirist in the 1970s he was a lone voice
in the wilderness. He reveals how it all started.
His mother escaped Nazi Germany and arrived here on the eve of World War II, and
met Hannes at a Mozart concert at the Cape Town City Hall. Uys quips: “You can blame
Amadeus and Adolf for my parents meeting.”
At a moving performance last month, Uys performed Echo at the Jewish Museum in Berlin,
standing at the piano his sister Tessa donated to the centre.
The personal and public meet as Uys leads the audience into his world, revealing
details about his grandmothers, his teachers and his passions which, among others,
include Sophia Loren, who he has met on several occasions.
While Uys has undoubtedly always been his own person, he says that since the age
of about 60 he has learnt the meaning of the word “no”, and today at 71, he says,
“life is so much easier as I don’t have to please anyone”.
He’s always known the value of filling the empty spaces with words, hence the name
of the production.
The Echo of a Noise is at the Theatre on the Bay from July 5 to July 15. Booking
is via Computicket or 021 438 3301.
Dít dink Pieter-Dirk Uys is die rede hoekom sy outobiografiese The Echo of a Noise
op aandrang van die publiek weer terug is in die Pieter Toerien-studioteater by Montecasino.
In die stuk praat Uys openlik en meevoerend oor sy verhouding met sy pa, Hannes.
“Miskien is dit dat almal hulle eie storie kan saamweef met myne, al is ons van totale
anderste agtergronde. En dit gaan oor die storie. Dis mos die hartklop van vermaak.”
“In Echo is ek sonder enigiets, net my storie. En die wonderlikste Hollywood-ateljee
op aarde: almal in die gehoor se verbeelding.
“Die lewe is nie net stroef en swaar nie. My ondervinding sover is dat dit miskien
die menslikste stuk is wat ek al ooit opgevoer het, want almal het ’n pa, ’n ma,
’n jeugdige droom met lag en lekker, soet en suur.”
En mense deel hul reaksies. Soos ’n man van 60 wat in trane met Uys kom praat het
oor sy pa en mense wat ook deur bipolêre nagmerries is en wat familie weens selfdood
“Dan was daar kinders van 11 wat gesê het: ‘Die prente was pragtig, Oom.’ En as ek
antwoord dat daar nie prente in die stuk gewys word nie, antwoord hulle: ‘Nee, die
prente in my kop.’ That’s magic.”
* Vertonings is op 14 en 15 Junie om 20:00, 16 Junie om 15:00 en 17 Junie om 16:00.
Kaartjies kos R100 tot R180. Bespreek by Computicket.
This time it’s personal — Pieter-Dirk Uys’ one-man memoir comes to Johannesburg
– David O’Sullivan, BizNews.com, 3 April 2017
Pieter-Dirk Uys can be accurately described as a national treasure. For the past
five decades, he’s been taunting the authorities and entertaining audiences with
his sharply observed plays, revues and films. He’s created many memorable characters,
most notably Evita Bezuidenhout, who has become as much part of the national psyche
as Uys himself. If ever theatre has been used to hold a mirror up to South African
society and show off all its blemishes to comic effect, it’s been through Uys’ finely-honed
social observations and comedic instincts. In his latest show, the highly-acclaimed
one-man memoir The Echo of a Noise, Tannie Evita is there only in spirit as Uys takes
audiences on a more personal and intimate journey. Gone are the masks, the eyelashes
and the personas, and Uys takes audiences on a journey into his public and private
life. He shares the personal mythologies and histories that have led him to the stage,
and tells of the influences in his life — his father Hannes and mother Helga, his
grandmothers, his teachers and his passions. Uys describes it as a tale of “a boy
who was stricken by the disease to please from an early age, overshadowed by church
and school and a very strict father.” The Echo of a Noise has played to sell-out
houses both at its premier at the National Arts Festival and the Theatre on the Bay
in Cape Town. Now it’s on in Johannesburg at the Studio Theatre Montecasino until
9 April. David O’Sullivan talks to Pieter-Dirk Uys about his new show, which he’s
described as one of the funniest and emotional he’s yet written.
Pieter, the Echo of a Noise has been performed to great acclaim, and now it comes
to Johannesburg. It’s described as a ‘one-man memoir’. What does that mean?
Well, for the first time ever I have walked away from all my security blankets —
there are no false eyelashes, no high-heeled shoes. There’s not a Zuma or a Botha,
or even Evita Bezuidenhout — although there is a hint of her because basically it
is the story behind the stories. I never thought I would really tell the story of
my relationship with my father and my survival through the years of National Party
fake news which actually gave me all the material that I needed to make fun of them
in those old apartheid days. And so this is really and truly the first time I am
unclouded rather than unplugged and really it is about my father and also our maid
— it’s funny to call her that because Sannie Abada was like my Cape Flats mother
for so many years. So I had extraordinary influences from her and also from the reality
of being a young, white, Afrikaans, Calvinist South African boy who just had to try
and find his own way through the quicksand and the minefield. So The Echo of a Noise
was an interesting title, but I am not sure what it meant. Did it mean that I am
the echo of a noise past, meaning “has been” — which is possible? Or am I the echo
of a noise re-inventing itself for the future, which is also possible? Or it is the
echo of the noise of laughter at things that were not allowed to be laughed at? It
could be all those things. But it is just me and the audience.
Well I have been re-reading your memoir ‘Between the Devil and the Deep’ and I have
got a lot glimpses into the struggles of you as a young boy. One of the images that
was quite stark for me was of you as a young boy in church, the Dutch Reformed Church,
singing in the choir and in the front row is Hendrik Verwoerd and his wife. And immediately
we’ve got this clash of this youngster who will one day become rebellious and speak
out so vocally against the system that this man created, and yet there you are singing
for him at an early stage. What are your memories of that?
Oh vivid, extraordinary. I mean there we were in the choir, my father was the organist
in the church and we would sing very beautiful classical choral music which actually
were based in Catholic religion which was a wonderful thing to know because my father
translated them into Afrikaans and they were sung in a Dutch Reformed Church environment
which was so anti-Catholic, in fact anti so many things. So there was our Prime Minister
and his wife and we sang the national anthem and well you know — that’s what it was.
You must remember that in those days there was no television, there was no freedom
of expression, and I grew up in a family that really and truly had very little energy
for politics because they were musicians, pianists, and so it was Mozart, Beethoven
and Schubert and not Verwoerd and Jan van Riebeeck. And yet ironically I also had
a photo of Dr Verwoerd on the walls of my room because we were just, I suppose, brainwashed
at school and even in church that Verwoerd was a gift from God. And my friends had
pictures of Verwoerd on their walls, but they also had pictures of rugby players
as well. But I did not go that far. However, I did find a picture of a very beautiful
Italian film star called Sophia Loren, and I put her on the wall next to Hendrik
Verwoerd and the next day Hendrik Verwoerd fell off the wall. So Sophia Loren saved
What was it like in the home environment? You describe your background as being Afrikaner
Calvinist and Calvinist implies that there were strict rigours, but you’ve got these
two parents who are musicians and one expects that this allows them to be more open-minded
and more creative. Your sister, Tessa, was also an incredibly creative person. Were
there artistic freedoms, even as a youngster or was your upbringing terribly Calvinistic
No, it was not structured in that way. It was disciplined, it was respectful, and
as kids we just did not ask questions. I think many young people in those years just
were not free to ask questions. I just wished that I had because there were so many
areas of my family life that I still don’t know about I mean the irony is that I
honestly know more about Sophia Loren’s family than about my own family. There was
the fact that my mother, only after she died did I find out that she was Jewish.
I mean, come on, how crazy is all that? And yet when I look back at her relationship
with me and my sister and the wonderful freedom she gave us through her sense of
humour and without actually spelling out the reality of having to leave Germany because
she was Jewish in 1937, and coming to Cape Town and the first piano job she got as
a professional pianist was on the stage of the City Hall playing the two Mozart piano
concertos with a pianist called Hannes Uys — and that’s where she met my father.
You know, so my constant reminder of that is to thank two people for being here today.
The one person I thank is Amadeus and the other is Adolf. So actually no I must say
my family had a very open-minded and enjoyable relationship with us as children,
but it was hard work. We weren’t rich. I certainly never thought that we poor but
we certainly did not waste money or show off, my father was very strict on those
things. So yes, listen, I come from a very happy background and the change in my
life came purely because I think I realised that the life I was leading was not the
life that was acceptable in a context of goodness. I mean how can people be treated
as second-class citizens because they were not white? I think that is the first question
that bothered me. In Sunday School, the NG Kerk dominee said you know if we were
good Afrikaans children we would go straight to heaven, and then somehow he said
that all the good little black children would also go straight to their heaven. I
think that this was the first time I had to try and work out why there were two heavens.
What was it about your upbringing that allowed you to question, and allowed you to
rebel. You had this daily drug that you called the theatre, but against you father’s
wishes you go and enroll at UCT, the liberal, communist institution and not Stellenbosch
University. Why do you think you were able to break the shackles like that?
You know I think it was just a very childish thing. I think I just wanted to piss
off my pa. I think I wanted to irritate all the Ooms and all those people in the
family that had their stiff upper lips, and they were all involved in the National
Party. My father’s one cousin was Dr D F Malan, I mean that’s where his part of the
family did come from. He also did not like them quite frankly. My father had no
time for this Broederbond stuff. But again no politics was discussed at home. I just
think it was…I wish I had an answer to that, because people say ‘why did you do it,
did you just realise’? But no, it was just instinctive, I think I just felt that
was one way to get a reaction out of people, a reaction of irritation, which meant
that I was winning some battles. And I think I was being very silly in the beginning,
even in my satirical work I was making fun of obvious things and using swear words
to attract attention. But one thing sort of led to another and eventually I found
that definition of 49% anger and 51% entertainment, because most of my material is
anchored in the anger of paralysis. What can I do as one person in this country when
so many things are going wrong because so few of us are standing up and saying what
can we do to change things?
How are you addressing these issues in The Echo of a Noise? Do you spend much time
in the show dealing with this stage of your life?
Do you know, I spend a lot of time actually trying to navigate myself as a person
through the minefield of fear and of questions. And suddenly the big change in my
life came when I did go to UCT to do a BA Drama because I wanted to be a teacher.
And Pa was very pleased, my father was very thrilled about that, and then I got diverted
into BA Drama, meaning I suddenly ended up in drama school, meaning that my father
blew his top because he said “this is not a future”. And I think that’s where the
first cracks started coming. Then again my lifestyle was definitely not something
that my father really appreciated in any way and I had friends that were very verbal
and very camp and sometimes extremely homosexual, which was also illegal and something
never spoken about. So I suppose that’s where the break came, and in fact eventually
my father threw me out of the house when my writings and my plays attracted the attention
of government and police. But then we found each other again. You know once a cheque
came in at the end of a week, after a week’s season in a theatre and it was a hell
of a lot of money, and suddenly my father realised ‘oh my gosh, he’s making money
doing these terrible things’. And he said to me ‘come home’ and so we started a new
relationship. So all that is the journey I take the audience through, although again
I must tell you the wonderful discovery for me is that my story which for me I honestly
did not think I would do other than one night at the festival, has appealed to so
many hundreds of people who have come to me and said ‘Do you know it’s my story as
well. I saw my father, I saw my mother, my sister, my fears.’ I suddenly realised
this is a totally universal backbone to so many peoples’ lives. We all have been
there because of our family lives and we see what we remember and we see what we’ve
missed. Many people actually miss family life today because it’s not what it used
to be, Families are not sitting around a dinner table any more, they sit in front
of their cell phones. It’s wrong!
Do you confront the issues of when you were performing and when your plays were starting
to get banned, starting to get recognised? There was a notoriety and popularity that
came with that. Do you talk much in the show about those times? On one level you’ve
got the Publications Control Board as the best PR agent you’ve ever had, but at the
same time it’s very frightening. You’ve often spoken about the Gestapo-like security
police barging in and shutting down productions. I would imagine on one level there’s
deep fear of the consequences, and at the same time it’s the kind of reaction you
would want to provoke. What is that like and is that addressed in the show?
Well you know the fear is a very dangerous thing because I then started realising
that being a white South African gave me an extraordinary amount of strength to push
the edge of the envelope. I realised then that if I was a black person I would not
have that freedom. That was also something that inspired me to be extremely careful.
And I think using characters, and I think again Evita is an extraordinary clown character
because the moment I created her, and there she was a member of the National Party
with her husband an MP as my enemy number one. Evita used to make statements to the
media that Pieter-Dirk Uys should be locked up because he was a communist and a terrorist
and he wears women’s clothing and he’s ridiculous and he is “onkristelik”. I had
many confrontations with people in uniform and people who were obviously there to
do damage to me when they suddenly started giggling and said “could we have Evita’s
signature?” I don’t know quite how to explain that but I suppose one tried to use
the cartoon and to use a punch line to save one’s own life. And again I was very
careful about not being a great freedom fighter. Instinctively I did not take sides.
I was not a liberal against the National Party government and I wasn’t a Broederbonder
against the liberals. I gave everybody a chance to make a fool of themselves. And
I think that certainly gave me a centre line to walk and not suddenly trap myself
in a political cul-de-sac.
Well I was a young journalist starting to make my way in the world of journalism
in the time that Adapt or Dye was coming out. It was also at a time when people who
spoke out were immediately silenced by either being banned or being locked up, or
they went into exile. And I remember so starkly that you were one of the few people
who could criticise government and almost get away with it. There was a political
statement that was being made that was so powerful at time when there was so much
silence. You were clearly aware of the incredible role that you were playing at that
I was not aware of it at all. I was completely oblivious to any of that. You know,
I just knew from a performance point of view my show must go on. From a performance
point of view I must not be late. From a performance point of view I must be arrested
on stage or murdered on stage, unless the lights are on so at least the audience
gets their money’s worth. And I had to keep a sense of humour, realising that laughing
at these people actually makes them very uncomfortable and they really don’t know
how to fight. We’ve seen it with Donald Trump. Make jokes about Donald Trump and
he tweets all night, which means we can keep him awake for the next four years. It
is a wonderful weapon of mass distraction, humour. Again I make the difference between
comedy and humour. Comedy is the joke. Believe me there is nothing funny about apartheid.
There is nothing funny about the terrible things that apartheid was doing to so many
people, but there was something very, very darkly humorous about the lies and the
publicity and the pomp. The terrifying brainwashing that was happening through the
church and through the education system and through the fear that people were being
confronted with. So now that I’ve got answers to all those questions, now in these
days that we speak, but believe me, at the time I did not analyse it. I really did
not give it any intellectual basis. I just knew instinctively as a performer what
works and what doesn’t work. I was also very careful not to go the Penny Sparrow
route because the reaction was the same as it was here. I keep on saying to people,
if I had said the things straight out against the apartheid government I would have
been stopped. And that’s the one thing that my father taught me, and that is what
I also talk about in The Echo of a Noise and that is my father gave me a small signpost
that changed my life. He said to me at one stage ‘Don’t always stick your finger
in my eye, don’t always offend me within ten minutes. Why don’t you tickle me behind
my ear with that finger and then I will turn my head around to see what is giving
me such a good time and my eye will find your finger’. In other words, don’t always
be obvious, find interesting ways to diffuse the tension. Like using Evita Bezuidenhout,
she looks like a very sexy Afrikaans lady with good legs, and while you are thinking
that, she is saying all the things you don’t want to hear. So it was a way of finding
a dry pathway through the marsh land of prejudice, and that’s where I have my story
and my dad’s involvement with what I was doing.
In The Echo of a Noise you said that Tannie Evita doesn’t make an appearance and
that none of those characters that were so important in that you were able to express
the bigotry, the racism through these characters and bring it to stark prominence,
they are not in the show itself. Do you talk much about them in The Echo of a Noise?
Of yes, of course, they all sort of pass through and pass wind, and pass through
the picture. I mean one is very aware of their power and also the fact that their
involvement with my alphabet was very important. I mean I had to focus on exactly
the reality of what was happening. But I think it was the anarchy, the sexual anarchy
where I play different sexes, political anarchy where I took different sides and
the nonsense of both sides, the liberal side and the totalitarian side. And really
to be the big word that had to make sense is the word ‘entertainment’, not speech-making,
not attack, not wagging the finger — I let P W Botha wag the finger, that made people
laugh. But the fact that he wagged his finger and said things that he was saying
on television made people laugh and made people say ‘hey, but he said that, that’s
not right’. And then they would start thinking. I mean usually one would always hope
that people would leave with some thought in their mind that we can and must do something
where we are. We can’t wait for politicians to change the world. Nelson Mandela was
still a banned person in a dark corner, we didn’t even know what he looked like.
We did not know that there was light at the end of our tunnel because our tunnel
was curved. So really and truly during those years I never thought for a moment that
we would get away with apartheid. I thought that we were in for the most terrible
bloodbath. God, I am so glad that I was wrong.
Well there were so many incredible shows which were able to put a mirror up to South
African society and expose not only the madness but also the evils that lay within
it. When you look at society now and you look at the political developments, when
you look at the political stage at the moment, there is so much for you to say and
do. Are you ever tempted to get back into the satirical review situation and get
those characters commenting about what Jacob Zuma is saying? I mean I look at what
he was saying in Parliament in that it will be a “funny democracy” if he sacks (Social
Development Minister) Bathabile Dlamini. I just thought how much you would have
been able to use something like that in a stage show.
That is so funny ‘it will be a funny democracy if he sacked Dlamini’ — I mean, it’s
wonderful. That’s why I don’t have to make up anything. That’s why I don’t pay taxes,
I pay royalties. It is just too good to be true. I mean the material is brilliant
but it is so different. It is material of corruption, of carelessness, of arrogance
in a democracy. That is not the same as the material that led to the death of people
on a daily basis, the crippling of people’s minds, the destruction of peoples’ dreams
and the legacy of horror that we still sit with today. So I am very careful not to
say that I am back in business again because it’s the same. It’s not the same. And
I think the person that I point my finger at the most nowadays is not the politicians
but the voter who is not doing his job. The voter who doesn’t vote, the voter who
doesn’t do homework, the voter who doesn’t understand who is in politics and just
says ‘what the hell, I’m not going to be bothered’. You know every democracy deserves
the government they get and we have certainly deserved the government we have at
the moment. I do also know that there are some very, very good people in the African
National Congress who are deeply concerned about what’s happening. And let us hope
that they will work hard behind the scenes to try and find a way to suggest that
Mr Zuma, our President, may retire for health reasons with full amnesty and go back
to Nkandla. And we can start from scratch and sort the world out. But I am happy
to tell you that Evita Bezuidenhout is a member of the ANC and they deserve her.
What was it like preparing for The Echo of a Noise, writing it, confronting the fears
of the past? What kind of a process was this for you? Was it an emotional process
You know the most important discipline in structuring this piece is to not put everything
in it. I’ve got so many stories and terribly funny moments. Listen, I must tell you
that The Echo of a Noise is probably the funniest piece of work I have done for a
hell of a long time because it is about all the things that people recognise. All
the really absurd and wonderful things that happen in families and to young people
and to parents and children. But I couldn’t put everything into this, I had to really
discipline myself to bring it in at about 90 minutes because you can’t go on for
ever. That was the biggest discipline. There were moments that I suddenly stopped
and I just thought ‘oh, I don’t want to go here’, when I talk about my mother’s suicide.
I mean that is really, truly in any persons’ life where that happens, you never recover
from something like that. But it was important for me to share moments like that
and there are moments like that in the piece, yes definitely, have to be.
And do you have moments, one of the funniest things that I found when I was re-reading
your book. I had forgotten you had to go to court, and at issue was the meaning
of the word “genotskrots”. How mad is that? A word you had invented, and now they
wanted to ban the word because it was seen as obscene.
Yes, that’s a wonderful piece in The Echo of a Noise. This marvellous fan club that
I built up called the Publications Control Board, and they would not leave me alone.
And that’s where my father actually in one of those conversations we had said to
me ‘don’t take them seriously’ because by that time he was also a member of the censor
board. I mean isn’t it wonderful that I got my dad to become a member of the censor
board while they were actually banning my plays? And he actually said to me ‘don’t
be frightened of them, they are idiots, they don’t know what they are doing, make
fun of them. MAKE FUN OF THEM!’ And so I think that is the one reason that I actually
then learned the whole Publications Act by heart, the whole law, I learned it like
a monologue from Shakespeare and I could trap them with their own law. You see this
is the thing that you must realise even today looking at Minister Dlamini, politicians
don’t know their laws. I mean you can really catch them out constantly. And so this
one play, Die Van Aardes van Grootoor, which was filled with swear words, except
they were not swear words but ordinary words that sounded rude. Words like boerewors
— you say that with a gender and you can be arrested, you know boere wo-o-o-o-rs.
And then of course making up words that sounded rude in Afrikaans, like genotskrots.
Well it means nothing but, my god – -hy gryp aan haar genotskrots. It really and
truly had some great potential. And the Censor Board fell for it and I mean it just
made for wonderful and uproarious laughter at their expense. That was the drug of
choice. The drug of choice was laugh at your fear and make that fear less fearful.
So The Echo of a Noise in conclusion, Pieter, is called a one-man memoir. It’s not
a play, it’s not a review, it’s a memoir on stage. You say it’s one of the funniest
pieces of work, at the same time I would imagine that there is a sub-plot to that
and there is a lot of seriousness to it as well.
Well it is extremely serious because it allows itself to smile at the pain. And I
had to find a word for it. I couldn’t call it a review. People ask if I play the
narrator. I don’t play anything, I’m me, that’s me there. So it is really and truly
the first time that I am there as they say ‘the emperor has no clothes’ and you’re
damn right, this emperor sits there with no clothes on. It’s been a fabulous experience
and I really look forward to bringing it to Johannesburg. It’s never been there and
so I am really looking forward to my season at the Monte Casino Pieter Toerien Theatre
at The Studio.
Theatre Review: ‘The Echo of a Noise’ is quietly poignant
No wigs, no heels, no attempt to be somebody else, just the man and his memoirs for
an hour and 40 minutes. Pieter-Dirk Uys' one-man show The Echo of a Noise is his
most honest and wonderful performance.
– Lesley Stones, Daily Maverick, 28 March 2017
There are times, when Pieter-Dirk Uys is fluffing around playing his various characters,
that I don’t find him terribly entertaining.
This esteemed actor is widely hailed as a national treasure, yet even the grandest
monuments grow dusty and fade past their prime. But I was wrong.
Perched on a barstool under a spotlight on an otherwise empty stage, 71-year-old
Uys can still hold an audience absolutely mesmerised just by talking.
No wigs, no heels, no attempt to be somebody else, just the man and his memoires
for an hour and 40 minutes that passes in a flash. His one-man show The Echo of a
Noise is the most honest and wonderful performance I’ve ever seen him give.
He’s dressed all in black — with an elfin face that transforms into a goblin with
a wicked smirk — starkly highlighted between the sweatshirt and a beanie. He’s vulnerable,
frank and lucid, and the audience serves as his therapist as he rakes over the embers
of a lifetime of adventure. He has a deep trough of stories to delve into, and a
brilliant flair for taking out each gem and polishing it for presentation.
Uys was born into a musical family and has been performing since he was a weedy soprano.
He speaks of his father Hannes, a man whom everybody loved and liked while young
Pieter-Dirk was cowed by him. Of his mother, Helga Bassel, who committed suicide
one day. He remembers the note she left, all 12 words of it, and talks it through
in a factual but poignant and hopefully cathartic way.
The setting is monochrome, but the pictures he paints are full of vivid colour. He
talks in rich detail of their Cape Flats cook and cleaner Sannie, a strong influence
who showed him a way of life hidden from white suburbia. He makes us laugh with tales
of perusing his idol Sophia Loren, and facing down his fears to challenge apartheid.
As a young man Uys became part of the subversive theatrical world determined to defy
the rules of segregation. He jokes about the censor board that tried to muzzle him,
with its ridiculous rules that even banned a meaningless word he had invented.
He speaks with controlled sorrow of his father’s decline, when peace was made and
a lifetime of antagonism smoothed over.
He’s a magnificent raconteur in this small and intimate show, where the audience
gets to see the man, not his brash alter-egos of Bambi Kellerman and Evita Bezuidenhout.
Looking back over the evening, there was no mention of love in his life, except for
the love of his mother and his fantasy love for Loren. Is there an entire slice of
life that Uys has failed to experience or shied away from? Or are there more tales
to be told? You may feel like the man has revealed all, but there is still much more
The Echo of a Noise runs at Montecasino’s Studio Theatre until April 9, then Cape
Town’s Theatre on the Bay from July 4-15.
The Echo of a Noise is the story of a life well lived — a boy from Pinelands who
grew up in a fractured society but was blessed with parents who brought music and
love into the family.
A boy who was stricken by the disease to please from an early age, overshadowed by
church, school and a very strict father, and yet finding inspiration and excitement
through his fantasies and imagination.
The topics in the story will be shared by most of the audience: father, mother, sister,
cat, swapping comics, seeing movies, Mozart, Sophia, something called sex, something
named death, something remembered as love, laughter and maybe a tear — but throughout
all the familiar noises of life that eventually create a symphony of celebration.
I have never had the courage to come out from behind the masks and facades of the
many characters I have performed on stage more than 7 000 times.
They were mainly there to focus on political madness and mirth.
This is the first time I tell the story behind the stories. Maybe turning 71 has
given me the thumbs up to share the secrets and let the cat out of the bag.
I think the restrictions I was faced with as a writer and performer, especially during
the National Party years, helped me to create possibilities of confronting them through
unexplored avenues — in my case, using humour as a weapon of mass distraction.
To laugh at fear could help make that fear less fearful and, let’s face it, our lives
in South Africa during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were shaped by fears. Laughter
was a relief.
It still is.
And Evita Bezuidenhout was just one of those characters who eventually stepped out
of the satirical cluster and became the most famous white woman in South Africa —
then and now.
Of course, reactions to my work have changed over the years.
I expect my audience to change reactions from performance to performance because
the material is based on the news of the day and, often, the prejudices we all have
to face when confronted with so many choices, especially in this democracy that constantly
demands change of mind and opinion.
Theatre is live; news is live — yet entertainment demands more than just headlines.
My characters have to be familiar and representative of the many areas of conflict.
I try to keep to the balance of 49% anger versus 51% entertainment.
Then and now.
I’ve been doing what I do since 1968 — it is a full-time commitment and, because
it is always reinventing itself, theatre keeps me on my toes and living in the moment.
The great library of stories that have been shared from the stage has done so much
to allow us in the audience to confront the drama of life, of relationships, of pain,
of turmoil and strife.
And, of course, the release of tension through laughter, either via comedy or humour.
Politics has today become pure theatre, but I would rather stick to the stage than
be brained in Parliament by a flying red hardhat!
Uys’ one-man memoir, The Echo of a Noise, runs from Wednesday to April 9 at the Pieter
Toerien Theatre at Montecasino, Johannesburg. Book at computicket.co.za
Watch the latest episode of Evita’s Free Speech on YouTube every Sunday
One of the problems with loving theatre and going often is that people always seem
so incredulous when one doesn’t recognise a name, a brand. Thus it was that my cousin
stared at me in disbelief when I told her I didn’t know about Pieter-Dirk Uys. “You
have to see him.” I did. Together with the rest of white South Africa. At The Market
Theatre where he performed most of his works in the late seventies and early 80s.
I loved his work.
In the mid to late 80s Pieter-Dirk Uys was my next door neighbour while I lived in
a commune down Melville. He was a quiet one. I never saw him except at the theatre
where I continued to see his work, which I continued to love.
Pieter-Dirk Uys is up in Johannesburg, performing at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino
Theatre in a work called The Echo of a Noise. I popped in to De La Creme in 7th
Street, Melville, to have tea with him. He drinks rooibos, strong and black.
We talked about the work, The Echo of a Noise, briefly and his next work coming up
in May even more briefly. It started with the title and grew from there. It is
the first time that Pieter-Dirk Uys is up on the stage without the benefit of costumes
and props and a character No Evita Bezuidenhout, no Bambi Kellerman, no characters
at all. Just Pieter-Dirk Uys with his autobiographical memoir.
The current work’s publicity blurb dubs him “South Africa’s foremost satirist”, a
title he has undoubtedly earned. It goes on to say “He leads you into his inner
sanctuary, takes you through our history and shows where what is public and private
I am expecting great things from the work based on the publicity and the reports
from the National Arts Festival and Cape Town. With more than seven thousand performances
to his credit, he knows his craft, his country, his people. I’m expecting that to
meet him as a person.
From the work, which I still had to see when I talked to him, we moved on to chat
about the many things that Pieter-Dirk Uys is. Evita Bezuidenhout. The Publications
Board. April Fools Day. Brexit. Trump. Optimism. Daylight savings and whether cows
would really not know when to give milk if it were implemented. Evita Bezuidenhout’s
recipe books which are used in many a household. I told him I wished I could see
inside his head to view the pathways and thought processes. He said it was a terrible
traffic jam in there. We talked about icons,Sophia Loren (one of his) and Vanessa
Redgrave (one of mine). He talks to Sophia regularly — and about her in his latest
play. He gives me the title of this discussion “Icons and Aikonas”.
Awards. Yes. Life time achievement awards come because one survives. Pieter-Dirk
Uys talks about how good it is to be 71 years old. He talks about his latest award,
Best Documentary Feature for Nobody’s Died Laughing at the 2017 SAFTAS. This is a
documentary about his life. Directed by Willem Oelofsen it stars Pieter-Dirk Uys,
Sophia Loren, Desmond Tutu, Charlize Theron, Janet Suzman, and Jonathan Shapiro.
Evita se Perron in Darling where Pieter-Dirk Uys now lives. His Early Development
Programme is currently benefitting some seventy young people and their families.
Making a difference. Funded by a Trust, Pieter-Dirk Uys says that he is always
seeking funds for this and, like Madiba, will happily approach people and ask for
their help in this regard. I’m sure he won’t mind anyone approaching him either.
Pieter-Dirk Uys is one of South Africa’s most visible and outspoken AIDS activists.
The work he has done in this regard over the years is one of the greatest legacies
he will have made to this country.
Pieter-Dirk Uys tells me he is intolerant of the nonsense that provides him with
his scripts. He smiles , not sardonically as I expected, but with a twinkle that
reaches his eyes, as we reflect on life. He is as easy to like in life as he is to
like on stage. My excitement mounts. I can hardly wait to see The Echo of a Noise.
It runs at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre from Wednesday 22 March 2017 to 9
Opvoering gaan in ’n groot mate oor sy verhouding met hom
– AJ Opperman, Die Burger, 21 March 2017
Pieter-Dirk Uys se vertoning The Echo of a Noise gaan in ’n groot mate oor sy verhouding
met sy pa, Hannes Uys.
En hy glo dié “eenman-memoire”, eersdaags in Johannesburg, Kaapstad en by die KKNK
op die planke, is die mees universele produksie in sy repertorium tot nog toe.
“Miskien moes ek 71 jaar oud word om hierdie te vertel.”
The Echo of a Noise word van 22 Maart in Pieter Toerien se Studioteater by Montecasino
in Johannesburg aangebied en die Afrikaanse vertaling daarvan, Weerklank van ’n wanklank
(“Ek is so mal oor hierdie titel”), word op die KKNK in Oudtshoorn opgevoer.
“Ek het begin wonder oor die verlede. Is my loopbaan nou verby of moet ek myself
herskep? En skielik skryf ek oor my verhouding met my pa. Later jare het ons groot
Sy pa was lid van die sensuurraad en ’n pianis, soos PieterDirk se ma, Helga Bassel,
en sy suster, Tessa.
“My pa het my al die padwysers gegee. Daar was klein dingetjies waarvan hy nie gehou
het nie. Hoewel hy op die sensuurraad was, het hy gesê ek moenie bang wees nie.”
Die taal wat sy pa gepraat het, het hy ook waardeer.
“As hy egter gesê het: ‘Pieter, come here,’ het ek geweet ek is in die moeilikheid.”
Die grootste dissipline vir Uys met dié produksie was dat hy nie alles kon insluit
wat hy sou wou vertel nie. Daar is genoeg stof vir ’n produksie van vier uur, sê
Volgens Uys het sy pa ’n wonderlike styl van storie vertel gehad.
Uys het The Echo of a Noise die eerste keer in 2015 op die Nasionale Kunstefees in
Grahamstad opgevoer. Net een vertoning. “Ek het so geskrik. Jy weet nie hoe dit gaan
wees nie, maar binne die eerste tien minute was daardie gehoor so in my hande asof
ek tuis in die sitkamer gesels. Dis so ’n aansporing en inspirasie.”
Mense se reaksie was baie positief. Verlede jaar was die produksie weer in Grahamstad.
Sy pa het hom op ’n dag handige raad gegee. “Hy sou vir my gesê het: ‘Moenie vir
my kwaad maak met ’n gevloek nie. Jy steek jou vinger in my oog. Kielie my agter
my oor, en as ek lekker voel en ek draai om, gaan my oog jou vinger vind’. Dit is
’n les wat ek geleer het.”
’n Mens moet die gehoor aan die raai hou.
“Ek beskou komedie as die grap, maar humor is die persoonlike reaksie vir vrees.”
Op die verhoog staan hy alleen, sonder enige ander hulpmiddels. Hy het ook geen grimering
Sy pa was in ’n stadium sy musiekonderwyser, ’n man met ambisie. Sy pa het uiteraard
ook die verhoog geken.
Uys is sedert 1975 “werkloos”. Toe sy ouma hom gevra het wat van hom gaan word, het
hy geweet hy gaan iets oorspronkliks doen. Hy sou iets doen wat hy vandag doen.
The Echo of a Noise word van môre tot 9 April in die Studioteater in Johannesburg
aangebied en van 4 tot 15 Julie in die Theatre on the Bay in Kaapstad. Weerklank
van ’n wanklank word by die KKNK op 11 April om 20:00, 12 April om 11:00 en 14 April
om 14:00 opgevoer.
Adapt or Fly — reflecting on the collective long walk to laughter
Audience members hear what they have just read on their iPhones, writes Pieter-Dirk
– Pieter-Dirk Uys, Business Day, 20 March 2017
Now in my 71st year, it felt right for me to have the courage to step out of the
fantasies of Evita Bezuidenhout, Bambi Kellermann, Nowell Fine, the Bothas, the Mandelas,
the Zumas and the rest of my satirical cluster, and tell the stories behind the story.
So, I took a deep breath and ventured into this minefield without the usual security
blankets of wigs, eyelashes, make-up, carnations or rosettes. The Echo of a Noise
is just me telling my audience the ups and downs of an unfamiliar journey: growing
up in the SA of the 50s, 60s and 70s surrounded by a Eurocentric culture of music,
art, facts and fiction, while discovering a forbidden world of African treasures:
stories, languages, a struggle, a system of separate development and a hidden photo
under the mattress of Prisoner 466/64.
My parents gave me the basis on which I built my life: humour, music, fun and many
denials. I only found out my mother was Jewish after her death. Then the theatre
hijacked me and I have been in life imprisonment on stage since then as an entertainer.
I share my friendship with Sophia Loren and Nelson Mandela, my hopes and optimism
for our future.
This doesn’t mean that I have left politics outside in the winds of change. The tsunami
of my first one-man show, Adapt or Dye, crashed on the rocks of National Party rule
After having all my plays banned by the censors, the only survival was to make fun
of my fear and impersonate the people who were ruling with their rusty rods of iron:
PW Botha, Pik Botha, Piet Koornhof, etc. I also introduced an Afrikaans Tannie eventually
called Evita who is still the most famous white woman in SA.
Now, in this 23rd year of our democracy, I present what I call Episode 2017. It is
called Adapt or Fly, a title a politician gave me before he found his red beret.
It reflects our collective long walk to freedom from DF Malan, JG Strydom, HF Verwoerd,
BJ Vorster, PW Botha and FW de Klerk — as well as the rainbow regimes of Mandela,
Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma.
Pik pops in with his ANC scarf and Mrs Peterson celebrates the mock in democracy
on the Cape Flats. Nowell Fine, now in her late seventies, is still with me. When
confronting the realities of life in this 21st century, and especially in our democracy,
I still use the definition of 49% anger versus 51% entertainment when I structure
an onslaught against the targets of fear.
Yes, I have a careful structure for the show, a familiar framework of characters
and attitudes, but the doors, windows, chimney, creepers, roof and drains of this
house of cards I add every night depend on the news of the day. The show is live,
so often the audience see and hear from my stage what they have just read on their
iPhones or heard on the radio.
There is a difference between comedy and humour. Comedy is the joke. You laugh at
it and only remember it to tell it to someone else. Humour is a very personal reaction
mainly to fear. You laugh at it, not because it’s funny (which it seldom is), but
because you are confronting it maybe for the first time and realise that even though
it is lethal, it can be controlled because you are keeping your eyes on it. It’s
when you look away from fear through fear, that it wins.
Evita is always a step ahead of the chorus. She is the star of her own extravaganza
and if there is good reason for her to join the fray she will. As a member of the
ANC, she is trying to sort out that minefield of politics in Luthuli House. Yet,
after Brexit and the recent American presidential election, world politics has a
direct influence on everything that develops in SA. The gems of logic from our president
are as priceless as the utterances of the 45th president of the US, while Julius
Malema and the Teletubbies of the EFF never let me down.
The proposed law against hate speech might decapitate a few choice gags and demand
a reinvention of how you call a spade a shovel without falling foul of the duvet
of self-censorship. Luckily, Mrs Bezuidenhout has no time for trivial pursuits. She
still refers to me as a third-rate comedian. But she is determined to travel the
country whenever she can and reflect for fellow citizens her optimism and where we
come from, so we can all celebrate where we are going. Evita wants us to fall in
love with SA again.
My definition of optimism is: expecting the worst, hoping that the worst will never
be as bad as I imagine. So far so good. The onslaught of bad news can so easily overrun
any focus on what is good around us.
And yet there are far more good people in our country than bad ones: good politicians,
good teachers, good lawyers, good ministers, good mums and dads — and very important,
good gogos and tatas. I try to focus on what works, on what matters, on what enriches
— and keep the poison and the stickiness of disappointment at bay.
Did we whites ever think that we would one day get away with apartheid? We did. There
were no Nuremberg Trials. None of us was hung like Saddam Hussein for crimes against
humanity. A man came out of 27 years of darkness and gave us light — and Eskom gave
I am concerned that too many of our citizens see voting as a tiresome chore, or vote
for a party because they see no alternative. We don’t do enough homework. We don’t
use those five years between general elections as a study period, so that we pass
the exam at the end of the five years with confidence in the future. If we are lazy,
we will allow the energetic, ambitious and corrupt choices to win. The buck stops
I will never make fun of the fears of my audiences. Every parent rightly has worries
about the future of their children. Education is all, and yet getting staler and
blander by the month.
I now suggest to my friends when they ask what they should give their grandchildren
as a gift: give them a language. Pay for two years of classes in Chinese, Xhosa,
Spanish, or English and arm them with the weapon of choice: communication.
A sense of humour is more individual than a fingerprint, and so I nurture mine with
great care. I can still laugh when someone slips on a banana peel. Bad me! More often
I prefer to laugh at and with my cats. And, hopefully, I can and will laugh when
pompous inept politicians fall headfirst into the long drop of corruption.
I love living in Darling. It’s one hour from the Cape Town International Airport,
which means it’s one hour from New York or London. And thanks to the miracle of Google,
YouTube, Twitter and the rest of the internet highway, one doesn’t have to live in
the war zone of a city.
Country life isn’t a Walt Disney dream either; we have all the problems of the city:
crime, drugs and tik, HIV/AIDS, unemployment, etc, but there are no statistics, just
the names of people. That helps us all not to forget that life is about people and
not profit or politics.
I try to take my 60-minute entertainment For Facts Sake to schools whenever and wherever
I can. It now goes beyond HIVAIDS. We touch on sexual harassment, voting, reconciliation
and hope — and I use the f-word to fight fear: "fun".
And so I stand ready for the future with my three weapons of mass distraction: a
memoir called The Echo of a Noise soon also in Afrikaans as Weerklink van ’n Wanklank;
a political sosatie called Adapt or Fly (Episode 2017) and a state of the nation
address by the most famous white woman in SA. Alaughta continua!
• The Echo of a Noise runs from March 22 to April 9 at the Studio Theatre Montecasino