The one thing about being a legend is that people expect a lot from you, maybe at times too much: what is excellent for the average, is average for the legend.
That is the fate of anyone who is labelled an icon. Pieter-Dirk Uys is indeed such an icon in South African theatre. As Tannie Evita he ruffled many politicians’ feathers when they and their dirty little secrets needed some airing. Through his characters he has become the political conscience we fear some don’t have, the mirror of introspection on the democratic wall.
The show titled An Audience with Pieter-Dirk-Eish is based on the Pick a Box game show which transitioned from radio to television in the 1980s. As a 30-something, I was probably one of the youngest audience members who still remembered the concept… so this was a rediscovery moment for some and maybe a fresh vision for others. As the concept doesn’t really allow the “presenter” control over the flow of events, bringing it to life on stage is a theatre gamble of note.
Due to the nature of the Eish version of the game, where the audience picks a box that determines which of his character graces the stage, no one performance will ever be the same. This clearly has the potential of influencing the feel, comedic timing and impact of the message that the master is trying to get across to his audience. Last night that concept perhaps stole his climax, as Tannie Evita was called upon to make an appearance very early into the evening.
Pieter-Dirk Uys himself also pointed out that there is a difference between comedy and humour. Comedy is the easy laugh, while humour cuts deeper. Humour is that giggle you bravely let escape as you stare that which you fear straight in the eye. It is your satirical ah-ha moment.
Based on that self-chosen yardstick, last night’s version of Pieter-Dirk-Eish seemed just a little too easy for him… too much comedy and too little humour. This may have had a lot to do with the fact that he was playing to an audience of predominantly foreign tourists. This resulted in the few South Africans who got the real deeper-meaning gems, revealed when he was not in character, laughing along in that awkward off-beat timing fashion. Those were however the moments I valued most in the show.
Those moments, when he dropped the mask of the maybe too well-known characters, I was mesmerised by the genius, insight and candour of a man that has so much insight into the psyche of our beloved country. I would pay double to see a show that is just an audience with the real witty satirist that is Pieter-Dirk Uys … no Tannie Evita with Eish on the side. Although admittedly, I would love to see Chester Missing and Tannie Evita cook up a storm together in the Luthuli House kitchen … hint hint!
The audience clearly found the show very entertaining, even if my ah-ha moments and gasps of “no he didn’t” were a little fewer than I would have liked. Ultimately the show is a fun night out, but it is not Pieter-Dirk Uys hard-hitting-humour good as I have seen done in the past. I was left wondering if any good (the norm) comedian who glimpses the Parliamentary channel twice a week could not get those laughs too. Isn’t the purpose of the satire that underlies the existence of each of his iconic characters that you walk out an empowered voter, rather than just an entertained patron?
So, will it get laughs? Yes. Will it sell out? Definitely, because everyone wants to laugh rather than cry at the state of the nation. As a comedy show it is light entertainment that will leave you feeling relaxed after a busy day at work. Somehow I doubt that is what the legend wishes your reaction to be…
Even if not humour, but just comedy, I still admire the genius behind the man with many masks … and dresses.
You can go for an An Audience with Pieter-Dirk-Eish, and maybe be the brave picker of a box yourself, until 14 March 2015 at Theatre on the Bay. Tickets can be booked through Computicket.
Scene It by Barbara Loots.