It’s show time and Pieter Dirk Uys is on the march as he opens his latest show at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival followed with a season of the same show – albeit with a switch of languages from Afrikaans to English – with a stated mission: Live theatre has slipped down to the bottom of page 5 of everyone’s priorities. Let us reboot it back to page one!
He speaks to DIANE DE BEER about this time of performance:
The wonderful thing about artist Pieter Dirk Uys is his maturity, the way he is looks back yet keep his eye on the future as he confronts, charms and sometimes chills us with his stories about our past, present and what to expect in years to come.
“The age of 72 is a very specific place to be,” he says. “You can see your sell-by date. The audition is also over. The disease to please has been cured. You don’t have to prove anything; just improve. To quote from (a previous show) The Echo of a Noise: sort out your legacy. Make sure you flush before you go.”
That’s exactly what he is doing with Weifel oor Jy Twyfel: When in Doubt say Darling which plays at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival on March 29 and 30 followed by a season at Montecasino’s Pieter Toerien Theatre from April 4 to 22.
“The stage setting is an area filled with cardboard boxes, crates and black bags. Packing-up time. After 40 years I have a collection of props, costumes, wigs, eyelashes, hats and Koornhof masks among old Nat emblems. The show is about sorting out, and reinventing.
“Out of a box comes a prop. I give it a place in our history, and then it also becomes the centre of a new sketch, character, issue. I also weave throughout stories about my d—word: darling. And living in Darling: the kids, the community, the hope, the humour and the reality that if we do not look after our communities, the country will dissolve.
“Too much focus on government as a superman; no, government is the essential toilet paper to help us clean up and move on!”
As always, this one also started with the title which began in 1968 when he was the only one in CAPAB’s PR department brave enough to deal with Taubie Kushlick who was arriving to direct The Lion in Winter.
“Pietertjie-darling, she called me, and I was at her bek se call! Instinctively I knew how to handle her demands and maybe that was the beginning of the rest of my life as a one-man band. PR is essential. Diplomacy is a foundation to negotiation. When I kissed her goodbye, I said: ‘Mrs Kushlick, you call everyone darling.’ ‘Yes, darling?’ she asked. I said: ‘You must call your autobiography When in doubt say darlng.’ She looked at me as if I had coughed. Didn’t get it. Didn’t use it. Now I use it!”
Proof again, that his way of thinking is instinctive and is always there – in the early days as much as it is now. But now, many decades on, he can reach back and recycle the past while reinventing the future.
He understands that he has a broader horizon behind him than ahead and that’s why he dusts off those targets to remind audiences that bad politics easily reinvents itself as a democratic solution.
“In this new show I even do Piet Koornhof in a sketch from 1984 with his focus on illegal blacks, and then reinvent him in the same voice as an officer at Heathrow Airport, sorting out refugees and illegals who want to get into the UK – not unlike what we did in the old days of apartheid.
“Yes, it is a full English Brexit. I am moving away from the brittle political reflections. Let the younger generation sort out their future. I am already in my future!”
And as he points to his future, he also gives credit to his health. “If you can do it, get on with it. And so far, touch wood and stroke kitty, I still have the discipline and energy to tour with three 70-minute solo shows in the boot of my car. I also treasure my independence. I have no staff: I am my own stage manager, writer, director, performer (he or she) driver, publicist and sometimes my own worst enemy.”
“All you need to do is speak clearly and not bump into the furniture.”
His shows are all about the audience. He wants to make a difference to their view of life and their belief in themselves. No small task!
It’s about laughing at your fear, confronting fear, giving it a name, understanding its lethal ability but never allowing it to win, he explains. “There is no time for knock-knock jokes. The reality of the absurdity around the obscenity of daily life is enough to fill 70 minutes. And then someone leaves my theatre and realises that they have laughed at something they don’t even dare think about.”
He points out that we have just again teetered on the edge of a cliff only to see “the Ramaphosa wind gush up and level the playing field. We must stop blindly believing that things will get better. They won’t. What you see is what we’ve got. Just make sure things don’t get worse.”
Instead of watching the world, he suggests we look in the mirror and ask the stranger his/her next move.
“Courage, honesty, compassion, healthy anger, information, respect and maybe a talent to amuse,” are his keys to success.
But not just any old talent. It is one that he has kept shining for more than half a century – and now sparkles more brightly than ever.
PS: ‘Evita’s Free Speech’ on You Tube every Sunday is now in Episode 132! On Daily Maverick on Mondays. She has 140,000 on @TannieEvita.
* KKNK: Thursday and Friday (March 29 and 30) at 6pm at Oudtshoorn Civic Centre
Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino: (April 4 to 22); Wednesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and Sundays 3pm.