The well-lived life of a boy at 71
I have finally found the courage to get out from behind the masks and tell the story behind the stories, writes Pieter-Dirk Uys
The Echo of a Noise is the story of a life well lived – a boy from Pinelands who grew up in a fractured society but was blessed with parents who brought music and love into the family. A boy who was stricken by the disease to please from an early age, overshadowed by church, school and a very strict father, and yet finding inspiration and excitement through his fantasies and imagination.
The topics in the story will be shared by most of the audience: father, mother, sister, cat, swapping comics, seeing movies, Mozart, Sophia, something called sex, something named death, something remembered as love, laughter and maybe a tear – but throughout all the familiar noises of life that eventually create a symphony of celebration.
I have never had the courage to come out from behind the masks and facades of the many characters I have performed on stage more than 7 000 times. They were mainly there to focus on political madness and mirth.
This is the first time I tell the story behind the stories. Maybe turning 71 has given me the thumbs up to share the secrets and let the cat out of the bag.
I think the restrictions I was faced with as a writer and performer, especially during the National Party years, helped me to create possibilities of confronting them through unexplored avenues – in my case, using humour as a weapon of mass distraction.
To laugh at fear could help make that fear less fearful and, let’s face it, our lives in South Africa during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were shaped by fears. Laughter was a relief. It still is. And Evita Bezuidenhout was just one of those characters who eventually stepped out of the satirical cluster and became the most famous white woman in South Africa – then and now.
Of course, reactions to my work have changed over the years. I expect my audience to change reactions from performance to performance because the material is based on the news of the day and, often, the prejudices we all have to face when confronted with so many choices, especially in this democracy that constantly demands change of mind and opinion.
Theatre is live; news is live – yet entertainment demands more than just headlines. My characters have to be familiar and representative of the many areas of conflict. I try to keep to the balance of 49% anger versus 51% entertainment. Then and now.
I’ve been doing what I do since 1968 – it is a full-time commitment and, because it is always reinventing itself, theatre keeps me on my toes and living in the moment. The great library of stories that have been shared from the stage has done so much to allow us in the audience to confront the drama of life, of relationships, of pain, of turmoil and strife.
And, of course, the release of tension through laughter, either via comedy or humour. Politics has today become pure theatre, but I would rather stick to the stage than be brained in Parliament by a flying red hardhat!
Uys’ one-man memoir, The Echo of a Noise, runs from Wednesday to April 9 at the Pieter Toerien Theatre at Montecasino, Johannesburg.
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WANDERER Pieter-Dirk Uys in Melkbosstrand, Western Cape