By BRUCE DENNILL
In a career as long as Pieter-Dirk Uys’, it’s necessary to regularly find new gimmicks that help to keep the ongoing narrative and characters fresh. That said, it seems a little extreme to begin a new show by announcing the death of his most famous persona, Evita Bezuidenhout. Turns out it’s a double-bluff, or the second of three, depending on how you experience the rest of the show.
Uys uses this beginning to position the show as a tribute to “the most famous white woman in South Africa’, with a few add-ons.
Using projected footage of Bezuidenhout’s long career – she first appeared on stage in his hard-hitting satirical show Adapt Or Dye in 1981 – Uys provides a way for him to appear alongside his creation, which is generally a logistical challenge, as audiences can probably appreciate. Ironically, though, seeing how many times and in how may historically important contexts Bezuidenhout appeared gives her more validity and authenticity, making her seem more real and familiar than ever.
Uys appears onstage (but off-screen) to narrate and give insight into Evita’s shenanigans as himself and as a range of other famous personalities including Noelle Fine, his kugel mama and Evita precursor, and the late National Party Minister of Home Affairs, Pik Botha. The interaction between everyone underlines the curious warmth with which Uys’ business with politicians has always been conducted – the incisive satirist on the one side and the vaguely (or plainly) narcissistic power-monger on the other.
There are clips from the Evita-hosted television series Funigalore in which different title sequences involve Bezuidenhout and Botha playing a game of scrabble while glancing suggestively at each other; and Evita and the late Piet Koornhof (at one time the Minister of Cooperation and Development in the apartheid government, overseeing forced removals and other horrific strategies) making eyes at each other as they dance in a French ballroom setting (one, as an aside, that is weirdly reminiscent of other satirical shows, particularly Blackadder). How did Uys, in whatever guise, convince such individuals (and others), men who represented apartheid and implemented racist and homophobic policies, to mock themselves in such a gleeful manner? Whatever that superpower is, it was understood by Nelson Mandela, who prioritised an interview with Evita, understanding that more of the people he needed to reach with his message tuned into her show than watched the news…
#HeTwo highlights what an extraordinary life Pieter-Dirk Uys has lived. Without arrogance, it states again the importance of his abiding messages – about free speech being essential, about the destructive power of unwarranted prejudice and ways to heal it, and about how necessary it is to be courageous to take a stand. Perhaps more so than some of his more comic material, this piece offers direct addresses to those who need to take responsibility for the effects of their actions – often via decades-old footage, thus proving the ongoing legitimacy of Uys’ perspectives.
In that sense, the show is a challenge. You’ll have been entertained, with savvy satire, up-to-date observational humour, quick costume changes and spot-on impressions, but if you laugh and then simply leave, you’ve missed the point, #MeTwo clearly displays how far South Africa has moved forward during Uys’ career, but it also illustrates how much work there still remains to do. Get to it. Frocks and wigs optional.