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20 Questions With...Pieter-Dirk Uys

South African satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys, whose new one-man show Foreign Aids opens this week, gives tips on aping politicians & dressing like a woman.

– Terri Paddock, What's on Stage, 2 July 2001

Pieter-Dirk Uys claims he is more of a reactor than an actor. Born and "invented" in South Africa, his widely performed plays include Paradise is Closing Down, Panorama and Beyond All Reason.

But it's for his one-man shows that he's become even better known, with the character of Evita Bezuidenhout bringing worldwide acclaim. Based on an imaginary Ambassador Without Portfolio, Evita has satirised South African politics across the divide. Uys' philosophy on life declares that one should, "Experiment and always be brave, taking risks".

His new offering, Foreign Aids, opens this week at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, north London. A production about the trials and tribulations of sex, Foreign Aids depicts how AIDS has replaced apartheid as South Africa's living nightmare.

Date & place of birth

Born 28 September 1945 in Cape Town.

Lives now in

Darling, 55 miles up the west coast of South Africa from Cape Town.

Trained at…

Bachelor of Arts in Drama at the University of Cape Town.

First big break

Getting away with my first one-man show Adapt or Dye in Apartheid South Africa.

Career highlights

- All my Tricycle Theatre seasons to date since 1985

- Performing to Sophia Loren in Hollywood, 1993

- Presenting my AIDS-awareness show in the South African parliament, 2001.

Favourite production you've ever worked on

Rather like a child, I would have to say that every new production I work on is my favourite.

Favourite actor/actress

Sophia Loren — an inspiration since I was 15 and she wrote to me in Cape Town.

Favourite director

I don't work with a director, rather more with the audience. Don't act — react.

Favourite playwright

Noel Coward for being a great reflector of his society and a re-inventor of his art.

What's the best thing currently on stage (not including this production)?

Yiimimangaliso - The Mysteries at Wilton's Music Hall.

How do you rate the South African theatre scene post-apartheid?

Different forms of protest theatre provided answers, so now we must ask questions. We're on the verge of the African renaissance so I'm very hopeful.

If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be & why?

Adolf Hitler aged 21 — and then I’d commit suicide!

Favourite book

A thesaurus

Favourite holiday destination


Favourite joke


What do you like/dislike about the Internet and what's your favourite website?

I don't like the fact that it can take too long to operate. And I like www.evita.co.za for reasons you may understand by visiting it!

How did you cope with your shows being banned in South Africa?

I ignored the pressure, bought a new frock and got on with the next show.

How did you celebrate the end of apartheid? Has modern South Africa lived up to your expectations?

I celebrated by voting, and yes it has been an extraordinary seven years.

Given that apartheid provided so much fuel for your earlier work, has it proven difficult to create new shows since the democratic elections? Where do you find your inspirations?

Democracy has given much more freedom and many more problems as it's a less focused target than apartheid was. But politicians are like monkeys — the higher they climb the pole of ambition, the more of their arses we can see.

How does performing in the UK compare to performing in South Africa and the many other countries where you've appeared?

In South Africa, we're at the XYZ of our alphabet and elsewhere very much the ABC. This means we need more explanation and less local references and accents.

Do you think cabaret is a dying art? What unique challenges do you think it presents to a performer?

Cabaret, like theatre, must reinvent itself always to stay ahead of audience expectations. Offence is good, but equal opportunity offence is ideal!

What's your secret to playing women so successfully?

Observation and detail. The women must recognise the woman, and the men must forget the man.

What's your favourite line from Foreign Aids?

"President Thabo Mbeki seems to think that AIDS comes from Venus and HIV comes from Mars."

What can you tell us about your next show?

It's about laughing at our fears and celebrating our survival.

Anything else you want to add?

When in South Africa, come to Darling and visit our cabaret venue Evita se Perron.

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from 2001