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A Q&A with Pieter- Dirk Eish!

– Karen Rutter, Cape Times, 6 November 2015


After sold-out seasons in Cape Town and Johannesburg earlier this year PIETER-DIRK UYS returns to Theatre on the Bay. He starts in trousers and ends up in a dress. His sketches see him morphing from character to character featuring “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue!”


What makes An Audience with Pieter-Dirk Eish! different from other PDU shows?


There are 20 numbered boxes on stage and we can only manage to cover seven in each show. The audience chooses the numbers. Which means every show is different and I never know what’s coming next. That’s like doing a tango in front of a firing squad!


How does it feel to be 70 and still do seven 90-minute shows every week?


Having done over seven thousand performances alone on stage all over the world, I still regard each performance as the first one and the last one. So it stays fresh and topical. Sometimes though I do feel like a 45 year old racing car driver in a 70 year old racing car!


And also an eighth show on Sundays?


Yes, every Sunday I am at Evita se Perron in Darling with Tannie Evita praat Kaktus – which celebrates its 20th year in 2016.


You’ve been performing your one-man format since 1982. Some people say you keep doing the same show.


My theatre audience appreciates the sitcom-feel of my shows in which I use a chorusline of familiar popular characters to reflect the reality of the political and social ups and downs that create a new satirical turmoil each time. Evita Bezuidenhout, Nowell Fine, Desmond Tutu, Wininie Mandela, Madiba, Mrs Petersen, Bambi Kellermann, PW Botha, Pik Botha do re-emerge and adapt to add a new dimension to the long walk to freedom that we all share. But yes, there will be some people who will think nothing changes. For them I weave in a Zuma, a firepool, a Mugabe and whoever’s on page one of the day’s newspaper.


Do you think you are still funny?


I don’t think I have ever been funny ha-ha. I still envy comedians who can fill a show with gags and punchlines and jokes. I sometimes think the truth can be funnier. There is a difference for me between comedy and humour. Comedy is the joke that you only remember in order to tell it to someone else. Humour is sometimes not at all “funny” and often very personal. Possibly the ability to laugh at one’s fear and make that fear less fearful? Apartheid was never funny, but the hypocrisy and arrogance in a line like “there are two things I can’t stand about South Africa; apartheid and the blacks” very pertinent to the times, but still uncomfortably familiar and very horribly funny.


How does it feel to be white and critisising black political incompetence with humour?


The red line of racism is very close to the tip of my shoe. I will not cross it. I have fought it all my life. So, yes, I do not feel comfortable doing black politicians by depending on funny accents or bad grammar. White incompetence is easier because I belong to that family of “us”. Some of my “eternal” characters go beyond colour: Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela , Winnie Mandela, Mrs Petersen and yes, happily now, Jacob Zuma trying to articulate his telephone numbers!


How do you define satire in South Africa today?


It used to be defined as “tragedy plus time equals satire”. Not anymore. What happens today must be skewered within minutes. Thanks to social media and the instant press of that magic send-button which allows everyone to be a satirist, a journalist, a critic, a president and a god.


Your advice to Trevor Noah?


As I would say to anyone else in the public eye: don’t press send when pissed – or pissed-off!


Will Evita Bezuidenhout fall?


As long as she doesn’t demand a raise in fees, she will remain the most famous white woman in South Africa. I am very relieved I never have to meet her face to face.


You seem to enjoy performing female characters more than the others.


As an actor I do prefer my female characters, because they have so much more to offer in gesture, seduction, appearance and courage. Margaret Thatcher said: if you want something said ask a man; if you want something done ask a woman.


Will you retire?


Why? As long as there is an audience, I cannot wait to be there to entertain them. But reinventing ones product is also an important step in the right direction. I have a new show for 2016 that is different to anything I have ever done before. That’s what being 70 means: the audition is over; the disease-to-please is cured. No need to prove, just to improve.


You are also rehearsing a new musical while performing Eish! every evening?


In 1978 my play Die van Aardes van Grootoor broke the sound barrier of applause. It is has since become a legendary delight for audiences, English and Afrikaans. Now we have the musical! Godfrey Johnson has composed a feast of songs and drama and I will direct the production with a company of young daring talent to open at Theatre on the Bay on December 18 with previews from December 11.


l An Audience with Pieter-Dirk Eish! is at Theatre on the Bay until November 28, 021 438 3301, www.theatreonthebay.co.za

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