Comedy with clout and cacti

Pieter-Dirk Uys in Evita Bezuidenhout and the Kaktus of Separate Development. It is in Durban until November 19.

STAGE: Evita Bezuidenhout and the Kaktus of Separate Development
– Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, Durban

CACTI, caucuses, koeksusters and wooden clogs. A piano and talk of poor diets, fake news, hashtags, The Great Trek, loo paper from Zimbabwe and Mandela’s plants. Derogatory remarks about British bread and butter pudding, and spotted dick.

Then there are the nudges, winks, jabs or stabs at just about everyone from Donald Trump and Jacob Zuma to Thabo Mbeki, Pik Botha, Desmond Tutu, Jessie Duarte, Julius Malema… even Steve Hofmeyr.

All this and lots more find place in the latest collage of comedy with clout and lots of prickles, written and performed by South Africa’s finest satirist, the legendary Pieter Dirk-Uys who, at 72, shows no signs of slowing down.

I was a little disappointed, to be frank, to hear that Uys was returning to a frock, wig and long eyelashes as the iconic Tannie Evita Bezuidenhout.

I’d thought he might have decided to hang up the high heels to pave a new way ahead for himself, theatrically, following the tour de force that was his powerful, hugely rewarding solo show, as himself and about himself and his family, The Echo of a Noise, seen earlier this year. I rate it as the best thing he has ever done.

Even a good 20 minutes into the first half of Evita Bezuidenhout and the Kaktus of Separate Development  I had some misgivings. For all its fun, good flow and sharp wit, was this just another trip down memory lane, tannie wallowing in her own nostalgia while reflecting on milestones of Uys’s four-decades-plus of holding up a cracked, warped mirror to South Africans?

Tannie Evita… now a junior ANC member at Luthuli House.

The Afrikaner once dubbed “the most famous white woman in South Africa” walks through the audience, hair in a turban and cellphone in hand, to arrive on a stage where stepladders stand in front of a partially open red curtain.

Tannie, now a junior ANC member and knowing what’s cooking in Luthuli House, laments the fact that the ANC have not delivered (props for her show, that is).

She goes on, while she waits for her delivery, to fill the show’s first half with assorted observations and anecdotes – such as once being groped in a New York lift by a man with orange, candyfloss-like hair. Nudge-wink-say-no-more…

Evita also talks about the day she made koeksusters for Jacqueline Onassis… and discusses the weights and weightiness of biographies by former South African presidents, proclaiming Madiba’s book a creative weapon of destruction.

She also discovers some hidden goods and secrets in a cupboard…

It’s a long and amusing first half, but it is good to report that the second half is better. It is more snappy, sharper with its wit, and Uys is on excellent form, particularly when he has off-the-cuff chat with audience members.

Tannie returns, her props having finally been delivered, to appear in a shimmery frock against a backdrop of a massive framed picture of the Battle of Blood River, a table featuring varied items and a piano to the left of the stage.

It is here that Evita tells us that all we learned in school about South African history has been fake. And it starts with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck, the Great Trek, that bloody river battle, the rise and prison release of Madiba, the resultant sense of euphoria and hope… and stops at the sea of uncertainty that is the murky patch of current politics in this great country.

The ace from Uys is that he spares no prisoners in his satire – everyone and everything gets a shake or a rattle as he rolls out the punches with a sly smile and a twinkle in his eye. The result is that while one often chuckles or guffaws, it is sometimes with a sense of sadness. Or with a squirm.

There is no doubt Uys remains a master of his craft and as topical and clever as ever. I thoroughly enjoyed the new show, but I do hope he pursues more stage work in similar vein to the superb The Echo of a Noise.

Evita Bezuidenhout and the Kaktus of Separate Development is in Durban until November 19. Performances are at 7.30pm Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are available at Computicket.

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