This time it’s personal — Pieter-Dirk Uys’ one-man memoir comes to Johannesburg
– David O’Sullivan, BixNews.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
– Kavitha Pillay, The Witness (Pietermaritzburg), 23 February 2017
After growing up hearing and watching Evita Bezuidenhout, I’ve always wanted to meet
the man behind the extraordinary character who has touched lives with laughter through
his uncanny ability to get away with saying it like it is.
What inspired Evita, how satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys gets into character and how he
has achieved a growing audience through difficult and ever-changing times, were some
of the questions I’ve always wanted to ask. All of that and more was revealed in
his latest one-man memoir THE ECHO OF A NOISE in which Uys takes the audience on
an emotional journey, detailing personal accounts of his life.
Watching this intimate performance was like having a one-on-one conversation with
Uys. With the use of no set or props — except the stool on which he sits, and his
masterly crafted personal story — Uys is able to transport the audience into his
world. In THE ECHO OF A NOISE we learn about his family and childhood, his passions,
struggles and triumphs — from dealing with personal loss to pursuing his goals of
being an actor who breaks all the laws during apartheid — all of which is exceptionally
narrated with accents and expressions that Uys is well-known and loved for. He has
the extraordinary ability to capture imaginations while getting viewers to laugh,
cry, reminisce and even nod in agreement to his many wise statements — certainly
making him at the age of 71, one of South Africa’s greatest performing artists.
For a unique opportunity to enjoy an intimate performance while learning more about
the legendary actor, and of course a night of laughter, then don’t miss THE ECHO
OF A NOISE.
Pieter-Dirk Uys set to share the story of his life on and off the stage
– Estelle Sinkins, the Luvvie, 20 February 2017
This month sees the return of master satirist, Pieter-Dirk Uys, to the Hexagon Theatre
in Golf Road, Pietermaritzburg, with two of his shows — The Echo of a Noise on Tuesday,
February 21, Wednesday, February 22, Friday, February 24 and Saturday, February 25,
and An Evening with Evita Bezuidenhout on Thursday, February 23 and Saturday, February
25. Uys spoke to http://www.theluvvie.com ahead of the shows.
In your own words, and for the record, what are some of the topics audiences can
look forward to in The Echo of a Noise?
It’s 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.
How is The Echo of a Noise different from your previous one-man shows?
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 70 has given me the thumbs-up to share the secrets
and let the cat out of the bag.
South Africa was a very conservative place when you started your career as a performer.
What made you decide to bring Tannie Evita to life and to keep doing so despite the
reaction from the censor board?
I think the restrictions I was faced with helped me 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 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.
Have audiences’ reactions to your work changed over the years and if so, how and
why do you think that is?
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 — 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.
What is it about theatre that keeps bringing you back to the stage?
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 tensions through laughter,
either via comedy or humour. Politics has today become pure theatre, but I would
rather stick to the stage that be brained in Parliament by a flying red hardhat!
NEED TO KNOW
Tuesday, 21 February at 7.30pm – The Echo of a Noise
Wednesday, 22 February at 7.30pm – The Echo of a Noise
Thursday, 23 February at 7.30pm – An Evening with Evita Bezuidenhout
Friday, 24 February at 7.30pm – The Echo of a Noise
Saturday, 25 February at 3pm – An Afternoon with Evita Bezuidenhout
Saturday, 25 February at 7.30pm – The Echo of a Noise
Tickets R150 (R120 for seniors/students). Book at webtickets.co.za
Follow the latest episode of Evita’s Free Speech on YouTube every Sunday at www.pdu.co.za
Once, a few years ago, I attended the funeral of a family friend, accompanied by
At that stage in my life, I’d been to about five funerals and I wasn’t quite accustomed
to funeral etiquette. So, after one particularly emotive and well-worded obituary,
I began clapping. Yes, I clapped. At a funeral.
Anyway, I’m bringing this up because on Wednesday night, I attended Pieter-Dirk Uys’
one-man memoir, “The Echo of a Noise” at the Baxter Theatre.
Surrounded by the likes of Mike Van Graan and Justice Albie Sachs — and, in general,
an entire audience of older, better-dressed South Africans — I felt uncomfortable,
unfamiliar with how to conduct myself in a theatre.
Now, it's not as if I’ve never been to the theatre before. During my primary school
years I remember visiting the Baxter for Rumpelstiltskin and Joseph’s Technicolor
Dreamcoat. Between then and now, I have also had the pleasure of performing on the
Baxter stage as part of a youth peer counselling group. Despite this, I still felt
out of place.
So, when Uys made his way onto stage, I wasn’t sure if I should clap to welcome him
in. Or, as I would at a concert or nightclub, scream his name as some form of motivation.
I felt awkward. Even more so because I really wanted some of my slangetjies but the
crunching of the plastic packet had already annoyed the man seated next to me.
But then, just a few moments later, Uys did what he has been doing for over 40 years
— he broke down barriers.
There I was, one of about five millennials in the audience, yet, Uys spoke straight
Giving us an incredible look into the world of Pieter Dirk-Uys, I found myself relating
to so many aspects of this man’s life, this great South African’s journey to now.
Me, a 25-year-old from Grassy Park, connecting with a 71-year-old white Afrikaner
from Pinelands. It was both amazing and surreal.
Sitting next to my own father, Uys regaled us with stories of his “Pa”, Hannes Uys.
Oom Hannes who always had the answer. And if he didn’t, he’d make it up and they
would, as his children, believe him anyway.
Watching Uys relive his youthful infatuation with Sophia Loren reminded me of my
own, very many, crushes with celebrities. Uys’ stories reminded me of one in particular,
when I had an asthma attack in Woolworths after Danny K kissed me on my cheek and
told me “Girls rule” (a reference to my very ill-fitting t-shirt).
Seeing my father — who grew up in Woodstock — nod along with his peers of different
races and classes to Uys’ memories of Connie Mulder and Springbok Radio’s “The Creaking
Door” reminded me that despite our very real differences as South Africans, there
are so many equally, genuine similarities in our stories.
I found myself nodding, agreeing with Uys about the importance of familiarising ourselves
with the rule of law — as he had done with his “PR company” the Censor Board — to
ensure that no third-rate politician could fool us with their distortion of the law.
That’s what I took away from “The Echo of a Noise” — a feeling of solidarity. That,
and a night filled with laughter — and some tears.
And that’s Pieter-Dirk Uys. That’s always been Pieter-Dirk Uys. An artist who has,
through the decades, united a very divided South Africa through laughter and, later,
Certainly, a must-see for anyone interested in South Africa, satire, and a good night
*“The Echo of a Noise” is on at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio Theatre until 17 December,
running nightly from Tuesday to Saturday at 8:15pm with matinees on Saturdays at
5:15pm. The show on 16 December is at 5:30pm. Tickets available from Computicket
or 086 191 58000.
Pieter-Dirk Uys Memoir THE ECHO OF A NOISE Returns by Popular Demand for Baxter Theatre
– Broadway World, 17 November 2016
After a sell-out season earlier this year, Pieter-Dirk Uys returns with his acclaimed
memoir THE ECHO OF A NOISE, this time to the Baxter Theatre, from 29 November 2016.
Having performed alone on the stages of the world for well over seven thousand times,
Uys has learnt that every show is the first and the last performance — because each
audience demands and gets a different energy, topicality and excitement. Now in his
71st year, he does not 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 have pointed him in a right and original direction
— his father Hannes Uys, his mother Helga Bassel, his grandmothers, his teachers,
his passions; Sophia Loren, censorship, false eyelashes and making a noise when everyone
South Africa's foremost satirist sits on a barstool, wearing his black beanie on
his head and his Almost Famous sweatshirt, and with his impish smile, he even looks
like a naughty goblin trapped by the spotlight. Within minutes he fills the auditorium
with his presence. This is just Pieter-Dirk Uys speaking and he opens his heart and
talks about his private and public life. The big hair and silky repartee of Evita
Bezuidenhout or the smoky drone of the sexy Bambi Kellermann have been stored elsewhere
for some other time. It soon becomes clear that the title of his autobiographical
one-man memoir, The Echo of a Noise, doesn't really do justice to what he presents
here. He leads you into his inner sanctuary, takes you through our history and shows
where what is public and private meet.
Uys was and still is a voice in the wilderness, ever since he first appeared fearlessly
on a stage in the 1970s. He jokes that the all-powerful censor board was his own
personal public relations department. And how brilliantly they banned his work: even
to the extent of declaring a word Uys invented as obscene, a word that they couldn't
find in any dictionary. We hear the recording of the voice of little Pietertjie Uys
singing like an angel and accompanied on the piano by his father, Hannes Uys, whom
he would accompany on Sundays to the church where Hannes was organist — the father
whom he loved, but didn't like very much; the sternest critic of his work and yet
the one who could also give good advice. He tells of his father's last moments, being
with him as he died and then going back to the family home where Sannie, the housekeeper
and his 'Cape Flats mother', asked if there wasn't any washing from 'Pa'. The audience
is spellbound as he shares the suicide of his German mother, Helga, as well as the
influences on him of his Afrikaans and German grandmothers.
It's as if Uys constantly takes his audience into his confidence and so breaks all
the rules and crosses boundaries. He remains a master storyteller who can make as
much fun of himself as he does with the others who get a lashing from his sharp tongue.
THE ECHO OF A NOISE is at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio Theatre from 29 November
to 17 December 2016. Shows run nightly from Tuesday to Saturday at 20:15 with matinees
on Saturdays at 17:15. The show on 16 December is at 17:30. Tickets cost R130 to
R150 via Computicket or 08619158000.
What is it about Pieter Dirk Uys that has audiences running to the theatre? It’s
his witty charm, elegant stage presence and sophisticated ability to simply tell
a captivating story.
The Victoria Theatre in Grahamstown, once again played host to one of South Africa’s
greatest theatre exports, Pieter Dirk Uys who at 70 has performed over 7,000 solo
performances in his career and returns with his theatre marvel, The Echo of a Noise.
I remember meeting him in this very same venue, many moons ago, after the premier
of Auditioning Angels, where he writes about the rescue of HIVAIDS infected orphan
babies in a hospital,and was humbled by his kind spirit and his writing which pleaded
to a generation for action, or as he so perfectly puts it, point fingers at the system’s
In this memoir, The Echo of a Noise, he transports the audience to his childhood
at number 10 Homestead Way, Pinelands, Cape Town. He jokingly wears all black (a
colour usually worn by the stage hand) with the words ‘almost famous’ printed on
it. A spotlight and a bar chair are all that is needed on stage as he boastfully
fills the space and our hearts with tales of his youth; his conflicted relationship
with his father (their political disparities and his love and admiration for him),
his love for and pen-pal relationship with Sophia Loren (which helped him through
the suicide of his bipolar mother), his extraordinary relationship with Sunny (the
live-in domestic worker and daytime ‘boss’), the sounds of the trains passing, the
revelation that his mother escaped the persecution of Jewish people by Hitler (and
that he himself was half-Jewish), his rebellious nature which hid a portable radio
in his bed to listen to his favourite radio dramas, the touchy ‘uncle Andre’,and
the political undercurrent of the time.
All of which shaped and manifested this ‘noise’ that he became against an unjust
He jests that the best advice given to him by his dad was not to point and poke with
his finger, referring to his swearing against the apartheid system, but rather to
use that same finger to tickle behind the ear and then wait for the head to turn
and poke their own eye.
If you are familiar with his plays like Adapt or Dye, Beyond the Rubicon and Total
Onslaught, you will realise that these sentiments ring true in all of his writing.The
second piece of advice that he shares is that we must fill our drawers (something
he mentions all the way through) with important documents and memories, and make
your lists (of things to achieve). And like the melodic, soothing symphonies of Bach,
this gentle (theatre) giant is able to unearth the compassion and passion in the
audience to extraordinary effect.
Although best known for his interrogation, through his numerous characters and plays,
of an unjust system, we are not left disappointed by his interrogation of his own,
personal politics, as seen in The Echo of a Noise. A well deserved standing ovation.