It’s the great standoff between Pieter-Dirk Uys and his celebrity creation Tannie Evita Bezuidenhout. He tells DIANE DE BEER about the battle of sharp tongues and minds in #hetwo:
It’s difficult to imagine how actor/writer/director (and the list goes on) Pieter Dirk Uys (PDU) keeps producing fresh material – but a few minutes in his company, listening to those ideas almost tumble over one another, the answer is simple.
It’s his vocation, his passion, and PDU (with all his personae) is unique. I am reminded of a day decades ago when I slipped into a lecture hall at the then Pretoria Technikon (now TUT) and listened to him chatting to drama students.
Quick and nimble, thinking on his feet, and everyone eating out of his hand, I was quickly won over, but was certain that even though seemingly impromptu, this speech was rehearsed. It was only many years later that I understood how foolish I was. It’s simply the way he works and thinks and has fashioned a career not only brilliantly but with versatility and such longevity.
It’s always new as out pops yet another gag – whether it’s that of Piet Koornhof or who knows, decades later turned into Trump. He brilliantly used one of the Koornhof-driven apartheid laws and moved to British immigration officers to show the world for what it really is – up close.
Tannie Evita is one who just won’t let go. Ever since she slipped onto stage in 1981 (just short of four decades ago), she’s been misbehaving but as her creator explains: Because she doesn’t exist, she can’t be real and then, she proves them wrong.
PDU and his master creation have never come face to face on stage until now. As his publicity announces à la the LA Times: Uys dons false eyelashes and presidents listen. And even if that’s perhaps no longer a compliment, Tannie Evita’s long list of celebrity fans have been committed from the start and still remain true.
When he started impersonating her in 1978, it was illegal to have an opinion about anything political, so he reasoned, maybe an Afrikaans woman with an NP husband could spill the beans. “The fact that she was portrayed by a man dressed as a woman when cross-dressing was also illegal, could force the edge of the envelope. Or maybe that she was there for only one reason: to eventually make Nelson Mandela laugh. And she did.”
And many others.
PDU knows a good thing when he has one. The myth keeps running: “For nearly 40 years she has had to tolerate the impersonation of her by a local comedian,” reads the publicity blurb. “She tried to sue him for libel; she swore never to allow him into her life and yet, now in the 25th year of her democracy, she will be on the stage with Pieter-Dirk Uys at the same time.”
There’s a hitch though says PDU with a dramatic pause: “It starts with her death…” and sadly, you will have to go and see the rest for yourself because that will be the fun of #hetwo – another of PDU’s gifts, titles, always read them carefully, as therein also lies a tale.
Know that it will be fresh and new but never clean – tralala. He recently picked up some flack because of Ouma Ossewania’s language. PDU is puzzled but not troubled. “The title is Ouma Ossewania Praat Vuil.” They have warning notices, age restrictions AND that title. Feels like old times as the wheels keep turning – round and round.
He has been put through the censorship wringer for most of his career. But that keeps challenging him. There are so many taboos, some where he will bend the knee but others he will keep challenging. In the apartheid years, the security police and the censorship board presented him with sold-out shows, but he’s not going to do things for expediency alone. Whatever happens, he deals with it. If people have a point, he will listen, if not, he will tell them that too.
That both PDU and Tannie Evita will have you giggling in #metwo while banishing the truoubles of the outside world is a no-brainer. While he is aware of everything in the entertainment basket, he’s never had a problem packing them in.
Apart from this latest creation, he currently has 10 shows in his repertoire. At the drop of a hat, he can pack up his wardrobe and go.
He has teetered around on those high heels, donned too many wigs and battled the elements whatever they might be on his own for decades. When people ask him about his swansong, he’s retorts that every show might be one, he doesn’t know. But those who have watched him through the years will know that he has always claimed that he won’t stop.
He might do things differently, and with this coming face to face of PDU and Tannie Evita, he pulls yet another trick out of his shimmering stage hat. There isn’t an end to his inventiveness. He has done it his whole life, that’s how he rolls – to his audience’s benefit and delight.
An artist isn’t always appreciated in his own land and PDU has been around so long, many tend to take him for granted. Don’t! Live theatre has become a luxury and many artists have had to turn to television or film just to pay the rent.
There are a few like PDU who knew from the start they would have to do it all. It is the only way he can achieve everything he wants to. “I’m writing a new solo play,” he says. “It has to be for one man only because I can’t afford to pay actors.” That’s the reality and has been for quite a while.
Bambi, Evita’s sister is on her way to Berlin for a few shows. There’s life in quite a few of his dames yet – and that’s how you do it.
And Tannie Evita shares her weekly comments on YouTube and Daily Maverick about the state of her nation, where her Evita’s Free Speech has gathered supporters from all the corners of the globe. Her 140 000 Twitter followers are also tuned in around the clock.
“My instinct drove me. I’m a terminal optimist which we have to be as artists because what we do is total madness,” he said last year when speaking to Marthinus Basson at a text market in Cape Town. This is what he wanted to do and where he wanted to be – on stage among people with passion and humour.
He also had a message for artists: “You have to be a unique talent. Don’t be a copy, we have enough of those. Be original. Don’t specialise, do everything. You must learn the alphabet of the theatre – everything. Read, watch documentaries by people who do what you want to achieve. Don’t be afraid to adore talent.”
And we do.
#HeTwo will perform in Johannesburg at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre from July 31 to August 18. The run in Cape Town is at Theatre on the Bay from 27 August 27 to September 14. Book at Computicket or theatres.