By BRUCE DENNILL
Before Pieter-Dirk Uys comes on stage, there is nothing more than a black chair – not even a microphone on a stand, which naturally presages some sort of performance – on the stage of the Pieter Toerien Theatre. It’s confirmation of the sort of show The Echo Of A Noise is, where distractions are, and should be, non-existent, allowing complete audience focus on Uys as he sits in that chair and simply tells a story – some of the details and recollections of a full and fascinating life, edited to create a clear narrative that, though concise (the running time see Uys use just over a minute of talking per year of his age) contains enough colour and wit and depth to engage throughout.
Wearing a tracksuit top bearing the words ‘Almost famous’, Uys, all in black – including a beanie – couldn’t really present a less glamorous image, particularly for a man whose main alter ego is as outrageous as Evita Bezuidenhout (hardly mentioned here because, frankly, it’s not her story). He speaks clearly but calmly, adding nuance and shade via inflections and facial expressions, choosing volubility over volume. And the bulk of the subject matter is thought-provoking – how Uys’ family life, and particularly his relationship with his father – shaped his development as a man and as an artist – rather than steeped in creativity or imagination.
But none of this restraint takes any of the power away from Uys’ story. Rather, it intensifies the intimacy between performer and audience. This dynamic intensifies as the piece proceeds. Uys is enjoyable to listen to to start with. Then it becomes possible to discern the greater import of what earlier might have seemed like simple elements of an anecdote. And later still, it’s difficult to not be moved on a number of levels as the scope of Uys’ experiences – including being a favourite of both Italian film idol Sofia Loren and the rather less glamorous South African censor board, and for saying more or less the same thing – and to sense (even if you’re not completely able to make the links) connections between his extraordinary existence and your own possibly more mundane tale.
Technically, Uys was faced (during the performance under review), with the sustained distraction of a violent storm, the noise of which defeated the theatre’s soundproofing. But it was a challenge he overcame with both his customary grace and the benefit of his long experience, allowing the audience the benefit of an unbroken flow during his long, layered monologue.
This show was first staged seven years ago and this new version still deals with the same events covered then – it is a memoir with specific focal points after all – but Uys himself continues to change, and to see how he imbues each new production with the insight and sensitivity gained since the previous one adds another level of warmth and wistfulness to proceedings.