By BRUCE DENNILL
Pieter-Dirk Uys’ new show #HeTwo, in which he appears on stage with the elegant Evita Bezuidenhout, runs at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre from 31 July to 18 August and at the Theatre On The Bay in Cape Town from 28 August to 14 September.
You’re a creator and a persona in this show. Creators need to take responsibility for what they do and say, while personae don’t. How do you manipulate that set-up in the show?
We’re both there, but there can only be one winner! I have a great interest in the #MeToo movement and in understanding what it truly means – not just as a grandstanding thing. And it’s important to consider #HeToo, as this stuff happens to guys as well. And I’m also the stage manager and the costume designer in this one.
As to why Evita? Why is she still around after 40 years? She was created to allow me to say things I couldn’t say for a column in the Sunday Express, and later for the show Adapt Or Dye. That was supposed to be it for her, but she stuck around.
I have a huge amount of film footage of Evita. The danger was that I would make this show into a film rather than a theatre piece. There is footage of her with everyone from Nelson Mandela to Bill Clinton. And in the show, Evita speaks to me via a screen.
I’ve structured #HeTwo so that the start of the show is quite a shock, but from there, different characters come in. It’s still, interestingly, about exploring the need for disguises in order to make people comfortable enough to hear difficult things. And in some ways, I feel like I’m back to where I was in the old days in terms of trying to maintain freedom of speech in what has become such a politically correct environment.
Satire is dead. In the age of Donald Trump, nobody can do it better than he can.
It will be interesting to see how a traumatised – we all are, nowadays – audience responds. I never know if they’re responding to a challenging theme or if they just like Evita. I always need to be careful in the minefield that is confronting an audience who take racism for granted.
When it’s only you on stage, improvisation is often a large part of your performance. With two of you there, is this piece fully scripted, or is there still room for updates according to current affairs or audience response?
Everything’s scripted, but in each scene, there is a window of exit for improvisation. The material is adapted on a daily basis. It has to be.
And what if the audience response is in favour of Evita; if they like her more than they like you? Is that awkward?
I plan for that. I expect it. Evita is the pudding; I’m the enema. You can over-indulge on her, then I’ll clean you out.
I now have 10 shows in my repertoire, and I try to do two a month at Evita Se Perron in Darling to keep them all updated. That helps me to offend a good range of people; to keep them thinking.
I was in London recently, and everything was about Brexit. I had to re-write material every day.
Regarding the #MeToo issue, your relationship with Evita suggests great respect – acceptance of a woman in a leadership role and much more besides.
I often joke that I’m glad I never have to meet Evita face to face. In this show, the ventriloquist is getting kicked by the dummy. Different audiences out there treat my work differently – some see what I’m trying to get at; others just think some of the jokes are funny.
We need to have the brains to work out issues like #MeToo, otherwise they become bigger problems. We need to inspire the good people of the world to be better. Optimism is terminal in theatre.
#HeTwo is a new angle in what is a long line of angles on what you do. You’ve had boxes full of props and on-stage costume changes, and you’ve improvised to headlines in newspapers…
This show brings in our digital reality, with Evita on the screen. Just because she doesn’t exist doesn’t mean she isn’t real.
And we’re seeing how well that model works with our Evita’s Free Speech series on YouTube. That started as a message to Trevor Noah, to tell him how proud Evita was of him. Now we’re on episode 204!
Outlets like that are important, otherwise these things would just be ideas in a notebook on a shelf. Evita’s just a grandmother with loads of baggage, which is why, I think, thousands of people around the world identify with her – and her ‘designer democracy’.
It could be said that you and Evita are your two strongest brands, and so are the combination most likely to get a message across?
Yes, that’s definitely true. And I add some little ‘brandettes’, as well as bits of political input – reminders to politicians to not be careless when deciding our children’s future.