In #HeTwo: Evita exposed Pieter-Dirk Uys and Evita Bezuidenhout come face-to-face in a unique confrontation. There can only be one winner. So here is a Q & A session between Pieter and Dirk who seldom allow a face-to-face confrontation.
Is this your last show? Every show is a last show in the theatre, because tomorrow there will be a different audience, which means the timing is different, laughs come in new places and the energy is fresh and full.
What is different in #HeTwo? Well, Evita and I literally share the stage at the same time. There is so much footage I have of her since 1981 with famous and infamous people, entertaining the superstars, embracing Madiba and Tutu, making edge-line speeches in foreign lands, material which I can then balance with characters on stage who comment on her and the state of the world. It is also the first time EVER that I leave the stage to change into a character. Since 1981 I have always done it in the light in front of everyone.
It feels like a farewell to Evita. I would be sorry to see her go, but again I am led by the politics of the moment. If President Cyril Ramaphosa appoints her as the South African Ambassador to Luxembourg, she will have to go. Hope it won’t be to North Korea or New Zealand. That’s just too far to send a whisper across the world.
What motivated #HeTwo? The #MeToo movement has been a great motivator, because it is time that women are heard, seen and respected as equals, and in many ways, unique leaders of society. I though about a #HeToo because it is also men and boys who suffer the indignity of harassments and innuendo. Then, as with my 1981 revue Adapt or Dye, I had taken PW Botha’s ‘adapt or die’ and with a change in spelling created a new platform. Therefore #HeTwo – the two being me and my shadow, Mrs B.
Political correctness has always been your bête-noir. Can we say that word aloud still? Apartheid was politically correct and for most of my life fighting the injustices, which meant that I was politically-incorrect and often punished as a result. To now suddenly wear the halo of political correctness in a democracy? For me it just doesn’t make sense. Politics is NEVER correct; it is a adaptation of panic, illogicality, truth, lies, fear and futility. If the fact that I impersonate people/characters on stage – people who are not white – and ‘do’ superstars like Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, Jacob Zuma, and Desmond Tutu, is it being seen as politically-incorrect and racist? Toughies. It’s been my job as an entertainer for 40 years. I have impersonated them all: black, white, brown, male, female and convertible.
To play a trans character in a film or a play, must a trans performer be cast? And must a woman play a woman? Whatever happened to the word ACTING? The success of a story, either on screen or stage, is to cast the best performer to play the part. It you have a murder mystery, does your main protagonist have to be a real murderer to play one? Nonsense! Of course you shouldn’t cast against type to the extent that you lose credibility of character, and yes, today it is possible and challenging to cast across the colour lines and see a black Hamlet and a Chinese Ophelia. The fact that I portray female as well as males is part of the fun of theatre. Making the women recognise the women and the men to forget the man.
And the politics of the day? In my work politics is the lifeblood of the drama. Satire is usually unleashed through bad politics that need to be made ridiculous, contemptuous and funny – even though it never is funny in the ha-ha sense of the sound. I believe that if we can laugh at our fear and make it less fearful, we will see beyond the barbed wire fence of fear. Laughing at fear doesn’t make it less lethal; but at least you’ve got your eye on it. Keep your eye on it; give it a name – it will then never become taller than you. Look away and it becomes a 100 meter monster that will frighten you to death. Also there is nothing more enjoyable than laughing at arrogant, crooked, useless politicians. They can’t take it, e.g. The Donald in the White House.
Who are the bad guys on your stage? I don’t work with bad guys. I mention them, but I have to believe that the worst of my targets also has a sense of humour and certainly the charisma to become a chosen leader. That demands certain respect which gives the character belief. Brutal cartooning is easy. One has great power on a stage. I never belittle or demean through my comedy.
Do you deliver a message? Yes! Come back for more!
What do you want the audience to leave the theatre with? Maybe I’m a failed satirist, because satirists take no prisoners. I must find some compassion with the targets I dismember, because, as during the white Afrikaner leadership of apartheid, there by the grace of a giggle go I. I am a terminal optimist, having been in the theatre for over 40 years and Theatre does not tolerate the negative. You just got to believe that a crazy idea of a 1848 street revolt in Paris with an unpronouncable title would end up as Les Miserables that earned over $3 billion so far.
If you ever met Evita Bezuidenhout face to face, what would you say/do? I’d say: Excuse me, but I have to take this call – and run!
How much of your time do you spend on her? People think I sleep in Evita’s nightie! Now I spend about 2% of my time with the character: mainly dieting for this woman who doesn’t exist. Sound crazy, but it’s what the people see that makes the character work. Evita has been with me for so long that she has enough information and opinions to fill 4 hours without taking a breath. Her clothes are important. If I take her off-stage, the shoes must be expensive and new, or all women walk away disgusted. No dirty nails! And focus her speech on the issues of the day, not as a politician, but as a gogo of three black grandchildren, a member of the ANC, a citizen and a designer-democrat.
And racism? That’s a big wake-up call at every performance. My pet hate is racism, that evilly fabricated weapon of mass destruction. The only race I acknowledge is the human race. And yet especially today in our 25 year old democracy, racism is being used as a tool of fear, a way to blame, a ploy to end an argument before it started; to divide and rule. Yes, it’s okay for populist Malema racism, but not okay for dying silly old Penny Sparrow. And yet in order to expose racism, you must show it. K-words sometimes must be used. Not a comfortable decision which depends also on the issue at hand. I hate doing it.
Do you ever find her funny? Yes, because she has no sense of humour or sense of irony. When people laugh at her, she smiles and thinks it’s sweet. It’s also the reason she’s survived for so long. A sense of humour can get you into hot water and sadly we have a new young generation who seem to suffer from an irony bypass. A bit like Tannie herself.
Who is your audience? Anyone who will give me the 4 hours of their time to come to where I’m performing. They have to set their burglar alarms, feed the Rottweilers, load the gun, reverse their four-by-fours out of the garage hoping the burglars don’t slip in, risk their life in the City traffic which turns them into racists within 20 seconds. They find the theatre, park their car, kiss the car goodbye, get their tickets and sit and wait for me. And then it’s up to me to give them a life-changing experience, which means they will come back over and over again, because they want more of this thing called theatre, because it is LIVE.
How different are the performances in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban? Performances vary night by night because of the variations of people that sit together and react. Johannesburg is a megacity with the tensions of big business, big mouths and big noise. Cape Town tiptoes in and sometimes nods off. Durban hears about the show after you’ve already left. Bloemfontein walks out when you say poep and kak, and Port Elizabeth…? Well, I’m not sure any more. My most secure stage is at Evita se Perron in Darling where I perform at least 90 times during a year, usually on a Saturday and a Sunday. I have ten productions ready and try and do each one at least twice a month to make sure it’s all up to date and still in my seventy-three year old head. Yip, I suppose it’s a bit like showing off in the lounge because everyone feels at home. Including the Perron cats who sometimes sit on the piano and criticise me with yawns.
You perform overseas? Do they get us? I usually have more of a problem getting them! Playing the USA you have to focus on the tweeted noise of Trump. A show in London grinds into chaos with Brexit. The Dutch hate being reminded that Jan van Riebeeck and Hendrik Verwoerd were one of them. The Germans want to see more lions in my streets. I usually do a lot of research where I perform, so I can anchor my characters there and not have to bring an audience all the way to South Africa. Once I open the closets of international politics with their racism, hypocrisy, arrogance and separate developments, I have enough to fill an entire evening. Except sometimes they don’t find it funny and then I know I’ve succeeded.
People have been complaining about your swearwords: Isn’t that wonderful? After 46 years of vicious apartheid and 25 years of diminishing returns from our government, they still find certain words more offensive than the rape of women, the abuse of children, the state capture, the propaganda through fear and that elephant in the room, climate change. I love Afrikaans vloekwoorde. They are so poetic, or as I explain to the offended patron: poesie met twee dotjies op die e!
Are you careful not to offend your audiences? I am careful not to insult patrons who can’t hit back. Demeaning people is cheap and nasty. Making fun of those mentally or physically disabled is not my style. But to offend people? Great! Shows I’ve rattled their cage of opinion, usually about politics. So let them be offended and ask themselves: why does he think that and I think this? Changes of attitude and thought could be in the offing.
Do you have enough young people in your audience? Does one every have enough young people in a theatre audience. I’m no Lady Gaga or Madonna to appeal to the XYZ generation. Sadly we did not prepare them for the choice of live theatre against tinned fashion. Schools do not include theatre in their year plan. Media focus on theatre is minimal. So I celebrate young people who come and say to them: I’m 73; you’re 14. Let’s make a deal. You make me feel 16, and I’ll make you feel 24. And if you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, just Google. You have more information in the palm of your hand than the world has ever delivered. Now all you need is the knowledge. It’s wonderful when an 11 year old comes up and says after the show: I loved the pictures. I said: what pictures? The pictures in my head.
How come you are in the theatre since 1964? I went to UCT to become a teacher and then the theatre highjacked me. After four years at Drama School, it was life imprisonment without trial. So now I suppose I know nothing about anything, and everything about something.
What’s the difference in your work now that you’re over 70+? I hope the disease to please is cured. For too long I worried about what people would think. I would cut my foot to fit the public shoe, but no longer. I don’t need to explain or apologize. If people don’t like it, get Netflix and have a good time there too. At 73, it’s easier to say to the grumpies: Gaan kak.
Plans for the future? You mean tomorrow? I’ve made my list. Looking forward to it. My year used to have 365 days; now it has two days – today and tomorrow. Besides, I’m already in my future.
And retirement? Can’t spell the word.
The Pieter-Dirk Uys Legacy? That’s a tough one. When you’re gone, you’re gone. I just hope once I’ve finished my stay on the toilet of life, I flush before I go.
Something people don’t know about you? Lots. If I’m in a swimming pool and it rains, I get out because I don’t want to get wet.
Any regrets? Not regrets, but interested in people who do wonderful things that I enjoy and would have loved doing myself – if there was time. But there is only enough time to do what you do well. Fear is the bitch. When you’re frightened, you can’t do anything. But fear can also be your own refection in the mirror of your mind. Save your life as an example to others. Good luck – and come to the theatre.
(#HeTwo is at the Theatre on the Bay in Cape Town from 28 August to 14 September – book at Computicket. The 2019 Voorkamerfest in Darling takes place 6, 7, 8 September – www.voorkamerfest-darling.co.za – book via Quicket)