STAGE: Pieter-Dirk Uys – The Echo of a Noise
Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
A NATIONAL treasure, a theatre legend, a master craftsman, a constant inspiration and a genuinely nice guy, Pieter-Dirk Uys delivers his most poignant and gripping work to date with The Echo of a Noise.
Since opening at Theatre on the Bay in Cape Town last year, the show has played to full houses and sold-out seasons. I first saw it at last year’s Hilton Arts Festival at Hilton College, and enjoyed it again, every bit as much, on opening night in Durban on Wednesday.
This is an understated but towering show that has the almost-72-year-old Uys defrocked, unpowdered, real and vulnerable… calling back his past with vivid vignettes, often with his customary mischievous twinkle, and also ploughing patches of pathos. Little wonder his performance spurred an instant standing ovation – both at Hilton last year and at the opening performance in Durban.
The Echo of a Noise opens with a scratchy recording of Uys singing as a boy, then has him arriving on stage in black trousers, black beanie and a black T-shirt with “Almost Famous” on the front of it.
His smile draws enthusiastic applause as he sits on a chair placed centrestage in front of a curtain, and mimes along with the words of the song …and then goes on to hold the audience tightly in the palms of his hands.
Without an interval, he enthusiastically dips into colourful, detailed memories of his early days with family in a thatched-roof home in Pinelands in Cape Town. He starts off recalling his longing for long pants as a 14-year-old, when two of his greatest pleasures were watching trains pass by, and waving to passengers; and scoffing rum and raisin ice-cream after church each Sunday.
Also high on his memory list is playing with Dinky cars in the garden of his home, where he always half-heartedly went about his regular chore of watering the lawn.
There are many wonderful stories he shares, and in between the joy and amusement there are tender, raw moments of sad reflection, not least the suicide of his Berlin-born mother, Helga Bassel, and the failing health of his father, Hannes Uys, over a festive season shortly before his death.
Uys also looks back in detail and with great fondness on his relationship with his beloved, Athlone-born Sannie, the family’s coloured domestic worker who clashed with Pieter-Dirk’s father but was always available for the family, ruling the kitchen like a fortress. The sharing of memories of Uys and her, in her Sunday best, voting together for the first time is a highpoint of a show filled with glistening nuggets of nostalgia.
Uys discusses his father’s resentment of his son following a drama career and how they eventually patched that up. He touches on his move to and years in London, as well as his decades-long fascination for and letter-writing to actress Sophia Loren, now a friend.
He recalls his grandmothers, his teachers, his pianist sister Tessa, his passions, his rocking the boat with friends on the theatre scene while showing a middle finger to apartheid laws and censorship. He recalls failures, successes and regrets. And he touches on lipstick and false eyelashes… and making a noise when everyone demanded silence.
He is simply superb in a show that is in town until August 6. Do not miss this masterful storyteller on fine form with a story laden with wit and wisdom. Booking is at Computicket outlets.