Charming, chilling and confrontational Mr Uys
At the age of 72, SA’s leading satirist has a new one-man show
The wonderful thing about Pieter-Dirk Uys is his maturity, the way he keeps his eye on the future as he confronts, charms and sometimes chills people with his stories about the past and present.
"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 followed by a season at Montecasino’s Pieter Toerien Theatre.
"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," Uys says.
"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," Uys says.
"There is too much focus on government as a superman; government is the essential toilet paper to help us clean up and move on!"
As always, this show started with the title. Uys drew inspiration from 1968, when he was the only member of staff in Capab’s public relations department brave enough to deal with Taubie Kushlick, who arrived to direct The Lion in Winter.
"Pietertjie darling, she called me, and I was at her bek se call!" he recalls.
"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. You must call your autobiography When in Doubt say Darling’.
"She looked at me as if I had coughed. Didn’t get it. Didn’t use it. Now I use it!"
He understands he has a broader horizon behind him than ahead and he dusts off old 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," Uys says.
"Yes, it is a full English Brexit. I am moving from the brittle political reflections. Let the younger generation sort out their future. I am in my future."
Uys still has the discipline and energy to tour with three 70-minute solo shows in his car. "I also treasure my independence. I have no staff: I am my own stage manager, writer, director, performer, driver, publicist and sometimes my own worst enemy," he says.
His shows are all about the audiences. He wants to make a difference to their views. He offers audiences an opportunity to laugh at their fears, to confront fear, to understand it and prevent it from winning.
"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 didn’t even dare to think about."
He points out that SA has 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 people look in the mirror and ask strangers what their next move should be.
"Courage, honesty, compassion, healthy anger, information, respect and maybe a talent to amuse," are his keys to success.
Weifel oor Jy Twyfel: When in Doubt say Darling 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.