Pieter-Dirk Uys (PDU as he is lovingly abbreviated) is back with a new show, ‘When in doubt say darling’, at the Fugard Theatre this August. Peter Tromp caught up with the theatre legend.
It’s been more than two years since we last spoke with you. How has life treated you since our last exchange?
Two years? Goodness, it feels like 48 hours. What can I tell you…being 72 really only means one is no longer tied down to the number 60. But there is something different about life when seeing one’s sell-by date. I think at last the audition is over. The disease to please has been cured. Maybe for the first time I don’t have to deliver what people expect, but what will surprise them and me. For 40 plus years I have been focused on the ups and down, the ins and outs of local politics. That hasn’t changed. But politics is here today and gone tonight. The third-rate politicians with their fourth rate ideas who terrorize us with their corruption and arrogance will eventually be forgotten on the rubbish heap of old jokes. It’s the people around one that count: family, friends, children, grandchildren, neighbours and the cats. So life has been treating me to a merry-go-round of rediscovery.
Tell us about your new show, ‘When in doubt say darling’. What can audiences look forward to from you in your latest foray onto the planks?
The last political exercise was ‘Adapt or Fly’. Then came my memoir ‘The Echo of a Noise’, and maybe that more than anything showed me that politics isn’t as universal among audiences as I thought – it’s the story that matters. That’s what theatre is all about and even things that make you laugh need a storyline. Politics has no story. It just has a beginning, because they never bother to hang in till the end. And so I use the D-word on stage and do my tango in this present minefield of hashtags and hate speech. The town of Darling is where I live, but the word “darling” is also an endearment we overuse in theatre – “hello darling” here, there and everywhere. Then again when one reaches a certain age, you also forget certain things: his name, her name, their names. So? When in doubt, say darling. I combine both worlds in my new show – the bloody arena of politics and the comfort-zone of stories. Having lived in Darling for 23 years has given me a balance to the breaking news of shock and awe. It has reminded me that life goes on in spite of the Trumps, Malemas, lies, fears and droughts. I share some of those moments with my audience with a smile and a chuckle.
How do you keep your sanity in a world of Zumas and Trumps and Netanyahus and Erdogans and Putins and Jinpings – (supposedly) democratically elected authoritarians who make an absolute mockery of truth?
Let’s rephrase that and say I keep my INSANITY in spite of the so-called sanity of politics and social upheavels. There’s nothing more healing at the end of a session of working at the latest tensions surrounding land issues, racism, poverty, corruption and headlines than spending time with your cat. There is also another good way to keep yourself from going completely moegoe when you allow the world’s troubles to break wind in the palm of your hand. Switch off the cell phone, the iPhone, the WhatsApp, the Google, the YouTube. Ban the social media back to the cloud. I also have a sign on my computer which helps: “Don’t press send when pissed!”
You have always provided us with historical context for whatever times we found ourselves in. What do you make of South Africa’s present, and how do we weather the inevitable storms to come?
I leave a lot of that to Mrs Bezuidenhout now that she is a member of the ANC where she cooks for reconciliation and keeps her eye on the fragile crystal ball of democracy. She reminds her audience that we must remember where we come from so that we can celebrate where we are going. I want her optimism to encourage people to believe that for every piece of bad news there are two pieces of good news. But you have to find that pearl in the muddy potholes of daily life.
Will we see Tannie Evita make an appearance in this show?
My stage at the Fugard Studio Theatre is full of boxes. Packing up is hard to do, but after 40 years it’s time to sort out all the hats, glasses, jackets, wigs, earrings and dresses. Tannie Evita always has a choice of three outfits: fat, medium and large. And so I do find moments in our past to remind the audience how much better the world around us can become if we laugh at our fear and make it less fearful. Of course there is PW Botha, briefly, and Jacob Zuma, even more briefly. Piet Koornhof’s mask of big ears and nose makes a flighting appearance. But the focus is on the now: from the red berets (Gucci of course) to the new separate developments of Brexit, Trump and Malema. And my ladies do make their appearance: Mrs Petersen, Mrs Merkel, Mrs May, Mrs Fine and of course Mrs Bezuidenhout. How can I leave her out? Her reality show on YouTube (and repeated via the Daily Maverick) is now on Episode 152 – ‘Evita’s Free Speech’, every Sunday. Catch her there if you can.
* ‘When in doubt say darling’ is at the Fugard Studio Theatre from August 7 to 25, with bookings through 021 461 4554.