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Evita for President


REVIEWS OF EVITA FOR PRESIDENT IN DURBAN  —  MAY / JUNE 2007


The Lady with the lampoon

– Emma Nicholson, Tonight, 5 June 2007


She was the South African ambassador to the homeland of Bapetikosweti during apartheid and is presently in charge of the kitchens at the exclusive Native Club in Gauteng catering to Parliament.

So you could say that Evita Bezuidenhout is well qualified to take on the role of our next president. Armed with glittering outfits, a host of friends and her notorious bobotie recipe, the most famous white woman in SA has arrived in Durban to present her manifesto in Evita for President.

With the ANC voting in a new party president this year and the general elections looming in 2009, there is more than enough political fodder for legendary satirist, Pieter-Dirk Uys, to mould this show out of. After all, the mangled politics of our country are what his razor wit is sharpened on. As he admits in the show, politicians are the best scriptwriters, and this time they've come up with a gem.

Evita For President makes for a hilarious political timeline with Uys's acerbic comments ranging from the archives of apartheid to things we were reading in our newspapers that very morning.

He transforms into several different characters while intermittently peeling off the costumes to give commentary as himself

Thabo Mbeki makes a rare state visit to sit on stage throughout the show, then we are also introduced to Mrs Patel, a rich woman who unwittingly becomes a criminal, Mrs Pietersen, whose husband is not black enough to get a job, a Big Issue salesman who was school friends with Trevor Manuel and then, of course, the incomparable Pik Botha. Particularly funny is Kader Asmal's seminar on how to become Acting-President at a moment's notice where he gives invaluable tips like: don't invade Lesotho.

Finally, at the very end of the show we are graced with the presence of the woman herself, as Evita finally takes to the stage. While it was a bit disappointing to only see her for such a short time in the flesh (the giant poster hanging behind the stage in her honour meant she was never really far from view), the other characters did well to build up the climax to her appearance.

Uys's performance was skilled and seamless and he truly has mastered his satirical art. He shows that humour doesn't disguise the problems in our country, it highlights them as the ultimate weapon of "mass distraction".

But even if you're not interested in the politics, the show is well worth the visit, if only to see one of the finest performers in our country "put the 'mock' into democracy".

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Review: Evita for President!

– Daryl Ilbury, The Big Breakfast, 30 May 2007


Whilst on my way to see Pieter Dirk Uys’ latest production, Evita for President, I couldn’t help thinking why it should be that this idiosyncratic, yet undeniably glamourous, icon of apartheid should stand a chance of ever being President of our Rainbow Nation? Of course it is in that very premise that you will find the foundation of the show. Confused?

The concept behind the show is quite simple: as much as things have changed; they have, unfortunately, stayed the same; and given the obvious dearth of suitable candidates for our next President of South Africa, the more you think about it, the more it makes sense; after all Thabo Mbeki has hinted that he’d like to see a woman take the helm. Besides, Tannie Evita has excellent credentials to be President, but I won’t spoil the show by elaborating further.

Having seen almost all of Pieter Dirk Uys’ productions as well as enjoying a number of opportunities to interview him, I was particularly intrigued, and excited, to see what his new show had to offer; although I was a little concerned about the prospect of an hour and twenty minutes of Evita espousing why she’d add more than a sparkle of panache and style to what has been a dour and dreary current presidential term.

Naturally I had completely underestimated Pieter. Just as he has created his own style of theatre and has perfected a winning formula, so has he shown his uncanny knack of always being fresh and exciting. Evita may be the focus of the show, but she is not the star. Instead we meet a number of characters drawn from the past and present political spheres as well as, importantly, characters that reflect the very real people who provide commentary on the puzzling events in the realm of South African politics. Evita finally makes a sparkling entrance towards the end of the show, when we realize that she quite possibly is the best candidate for President. (I’m still trying to work out if that’s a good thing!)

The result is a perfect balance between reminding us of the insanity of the past and throwing a spotlight on the madness of the present. And there’s plenty of madness. Whether it’s in groveling grin of Adriaan Vlok and his feet-washing bucket and ‘lappie’, the hilarious antics of Kadar Asmal presenting a seminar to the Cabinet on the responsibilities of an ‘Acting President’ (because they will all have an opportunity to step up to the plate sooner or later), or Mrs Pietersen the confused Muslim knick-knack seller who’s husband is not dark enough to get a job; we get a reality check on the many cracks on the façade of our Rainbow Nation.

Pieter goes to great lengths to remind us of the need to laugh at this madness that surrounds us, especially at the frightening foibles of our country’s executive; but know this: he clearly doesn’t find a lot of it funny. That’s typically Pieter Dirk Uys. Simmering below the entertainment is an actor, playwright, political satirist and social commentator who is clearly bitterly unhappy at the blatant mismanagement that has left its scars on the people of this country. It is this subtle venom that makes the show so brilliantly succinct and powerful.

In my opinion Evita for President is one of Pieter Dirk Uys’ best works.

Go and see it!

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EVITA FOR PRESIDENT

– Caroline Smart, Artsmart, 31 May 2007


With the aid of Pieter-Dirk Uys, Evita Bezuidenhout is on a nationwide campaign touting her credentials for being the next President of South Africa. Her nationwide tour has touched down in KwaZulu-Natal and she can currently be seen at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre.

A white Afrikaans man in a dress for President, you laugh? Well, laugh you might, but — hey — would it be such a bad idea? Arguably no-one is more passionate about the country; no-one has a better command of who’s who, and certainly no-one is more fearlessly vocal in putting her money where her mouth is.

This passion for South Africa and its people started way back in time but it was in 1999 when Pieter-Dirk Uys (Evita Bezuidenhout’s alter ego) became aware that people of colour were diffident about voting in South Africa’s first democratic elections. He said to them: "You’re mad — this is your chance to vote, to have your say in the running of the country — what else have you been fighting for, for so long?"

This diffidence affected him much that he created Evita’s Ballot Bus and launched forth around the country in a voting edutainment programme. He visited towns major and minor (performing in Richmond shortly after the massacre) as well as townships large and small in a gruelling schedule of two performances a day over a six-week period. In certain depressed areas, he often received the response: "Why is a white man in a dress coming to tell us about voting when our own politicians haven’t come near us?"

But that’s Pieter-Dirk Uys. If he feels strongly about something and can solve it/make it better/publicise it, he’ll find a way of contributing his considerable energies. The list is endless but it includes helping a talented young girl with AIDS by selling tiny beaded pins at his shows or encouraging the residents of an old age home opposite Evita se Peron to revive their cooking skills and provide refreshments for his well-known theatre venue situated in Darling in the Cape.

Evita for President features an impressive double lifesize poster devised by Brett Bailey depicting Evita in a superb evening gown designed by Chris Levin against a backdrop of Cape Dutch gables and a rolling flower-strewn landscape. Next to her is the famous cactus which breezed into Parliament with Evita during the time when she was presenting Evita Praat Kaktus. There’s also the purple-coloured chicken which appears in the show itself, although it has to be taped to the floor because it keeps falling over due to having imbibed too much beetroot wine, courtesy of the former Minister of Health!

Pieter-Dirk Uys starts the show as a shuffling figure in a nondescript black outfit plus cap, carrying a bucket of water. Before the audience can grasp what’s afoot (pun intended!) he proceeds to recreate a highly publicised act of contrition by a former well-known apartheid government figure.

Then we are reunited with Pik Botha, an old-favourite of Pieter’s, now sporting ANC colours but still with the hunched back and lifting heels still claiming ignorance of vital information.

Aziz Pahad is next in the spotlight followed by a highly well-spoken Mrs Indira Patel who has relocated back to SA from London but still knows how to swing a bribe. From the Cape Flats comes the delightful vendor of the Big Issue newspaper who has the most delicious punch-line of the evening. Another one to have her say is Cape Town junk shop owner Mrs Peterson whose husband is out of work because he’s not black enough whereas in the former government he wasn’t white enough!

She’s followed by Kader Asmal who, with white moustache and dangling cigarette, is one of Pieter-Dirk’s Uys’s most successful characterisations to date. Then we’re reunited with an old friend – Noelle "Wake me when it’s over!" Fine. Her maid Dora has now left her and she’s stuck with Asiatic domestic help with unpronounceable names. While putting on full make-up, Noelle chatters away blithely about sorting out the world’s starvation problem and then announces that she’s ready for bed! She is, of course, the means by which Pieter gets to become Evita without leaving the stage for barely a minute.

Throughout all this, a puppet figure of President Thabo Mbeki watches with glassy-eyed stare and the chicken manages to stay upright! There’s even a recorded message of support from Archbishop Desmond Tutu!

After her varied troupe of "curtain-raisers", Evita swans in wearing a glamorous outfit designed by Francois Vedemme and proceeds to explain to the audience why she’s such a good choice for President. She even tries a bit of ventriloquism as she "chats" with the puppet, although this is probably the most incongruous part of the show.

Evita for President runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from May 28 to June 10. Booking is at Computicket. You couldn’t wish for better or more enlightening entertainment. Evita’s got my vote!

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Not Mbeki, not Zuma, but Evita Bezuidenhout for President!

– Peter Verweij, Cue online, 30 June 2007


At the Grahamstown Festival on Friday night, the famous South African comedian Pieter-Dirk Uys, brought a stunning, highly political satire, in the Victoria Theatre booked to the last place. Uys aims his poisonous criticism to every corner of the South African rainbow society.

Like Mbeki and his members of parliament, constantly flying in and out of the country; Jacob Zuma and his doubtful campaign to become candidate for the next elections. The popular Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel; he is not white, he is not black… and we, the whites, are getting richer every day; as long as he doesn’t raise the taxes.

The end of this awesome political satire was the appearance of his personification of Evita Bezuidenhout, for more than 20 years the satirical conscience of South Africa. Evita will run for President, and Mbeki will make the arrangement with the comrades of the ANC, in their meetings behind closed doors. Audience applauded and cheered the new candidate.

I visited the performance with one of my black Xhosa friends, exceptional in this almost complete white audience. But for us both an interesting topic for discussion: looking at Uys’s characters and jokes from two different perspectives: my Dutch and her Xhosa background.

Uys entered the stage as Adriaan Vlok, the commander of Vlakplaats, carrying a bucket with water. He looked around, descended from stage and yes… with piercing eyes he slowly shuffled to my friend. Took off her shoe and socks and started washing her feet.

Yes, Vlok is a Christian, and that is the way to ask forgiveness. It was freezing cold in the Theatre and the water was even colder, my friend said: "next time bring warm water".

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A satirical look at South African society

– Margaret von Klemperer, The Witness, 31 May 2007


PIETER-Dirk Uys's latest show, Evita for President, gets off to a great start. Uys comes on stage as Adriaan Vlok in footwashing mode and immediately scores a couple of telling points. But Uys, more than most South African satirists and comedians, has a problem these days.

His stated aim is to make people laugh at the things that frighten them (including Jacob Zuma and Jackie Selebi), and in the apartheid days he did it very effectively. But now satirists, particularly white ones, have to tread a very fine line.

Many make the mistake of aiming for targets that play too cosily into audience prejudices. The audiences for their shows are still predominantly, although not entirely, white and the targets will get a laugh but the prejudices are entrenched ones and all the jokes do is confirm to the audience that they are right to whinge. Even if the satirist is intending to mock their fears, the audience all too often misses the irony.

Uys is far too clever and too subtle to take that approach, but it leaves him in the tricky position of not being able to aim his barbs squarely for the jugular. This show roams over South African society, with Uys giving us a host of characters, both new and old, but the viciousness that true satire needs is not there.

However, he is still funny and among the best characterisations are the Muslim woman from the Cape, whose husband is "too white" to get the job he has applied for, and Adriaan Vlok. Nowell Fine, Uys's liberal Joburg Jewish persona, is still appealing- and to watch her put her make-up on as she talks to the audience is still wonderful, however many times you have seen it. Motormouth Kader Asmal is among the new characters and from the old pantheon, Pik Botha makes an appearance. Uys still has him pat but maybe it is time the old fraud was allowed to ride off into the sunset. After all, South Africa has plenty of new frauds to draw on.

The format is that Uys, never off stage, transforms himself into all his characters, giving an overview of the state of the nation from their various perspectives. And then Evita Bezuidenhout makes her grand entrance.

From the title of the show, I expected her to give her manifesto, answering the problems that had been raised by those who had gone before but, despite being as glamorous and provocative as ever, as a potential politician, she was strangely muted — perhaps she is just too much the grande dame for the rough and tumble of the hustings. Evita for President is an entertaining evening but if you are looking for the kind of satire that will make you cringe — and think — you will not find it here.

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