Stage: Pieter-Dirk Uys: When in Doubt, Say Darling – Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
PIETER-DIRK Uys’s audiences invariably know what to expect from the now -73-year-old South African treasure who has travelled far and wide, for many years, with countless shows.
The celebrated performer, playwright, producer, author and passionate promoter of Aids education has built up such a rapport over his four decades in entertainment that in more recent years he comes across on stage more like a charismatic, chatty, colourful old friend rather than the theatre legend and master satirist he is.
We expect from him the dusting down and new airings of former political sacred cows and tarnished icons, both old and more recent. We expect a spot of drag, dark humour and much food for thought amongst the satire, broader comedy, knowing nods and witty asides.
However, the appeal of an Uys show lies not only in revisiting old chestnuts, which never fail to raise laughter and applause, often while also pushing buttons. The joy is that one always expects, and usually gets, a surprise or two among the familiar, tried and tested.
When in Doubt, Say Darling! , latest in the long line-up of solo productions by the writer-performer – who should alone get a lifetime achievement award for his clever show titles – again offers something old, something new, something borrowed and, yes, even something blue.
Once again Uys is alone on stage, in his costumary black trousers and shirt, this time on a raised platform containing cardboard boxes, some closed and some open, as well as plastic crates with various odds and ends.
The scenario suggests, with an air of pathos, that Uys might be in the process of decluttering, perhaps thinking of moving on, as he sorts through distant memories and old souvenirs of a colourful past and a stellar career.
The suggestion is never more poignantly emphasised than when, later in the show, Uys takes on the character of an elderly, lonely man who goes through the faded remnants of his past while seeking his only real companion, his unseen old dog, Smelly.
Another standout moment features Mrs Peterson, the amusing coloured woman that Uys hauls out for a sketch that blends humour with a tinge of sadness. It has Mrs P ultimately facing danger while on the phone to organise a visa to visit family in Manchester in the UK.
Mrs P marks not the only moment Uys appears in drag, of course – Tannie Evita, it almost goes without saying, is also here. But she makes only a brief appearance right at the end of the show, and not before Uys constantly surprises his audience, during application of make-up and false eyelashes, by revealing other “famous white women”. Among them are kugel Nowell Fine and politicians Angela Merkel and Theresa May.
As the press release states, the show sees Pieter-Dirk sorting out 40 years of distress, disguise and disgust: from apartheid to tripartite, from amandla to Nkandla – and happily back to amandla.
Expect to see and hear the likes of Piet Koornhof and PW Botha – even a hilarious performance of P W Botha impersonating Jacob Zuma, complete with cackles, dance moves and leopard skins.
We also get passing references to Mulusi Gigaba, MotherTheresa, Donald Trump and Durban’s Alhambra Theatre, among other things, and all are well received.
For me, the best parts of the show come with Uys casually chatting about his home, experiences and community of friends in Darling. He chats about discovering the town by having got lost on a road trip. He talks about how he fell in love with a dilapidated Victorian house there that was later restored by members of the community.
He also talks lovingly about converting the Darling railway station into his beloved cabaret venue and museum. And he talks of his acceptance by a close community, and discusses children there that he has seen grow up to become successful adults.
He also tells of a particularly amusing day trip to a burger joint and cinema that he arranged for a group of the town’s kids.
When in Doubt, Say Darling is in Durban on November 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10 and 11. It will be the Hexagon Theatre in Pietermaritzburg on November 6 and 7. Booking is at Computicket outlets.
Treat yourself, darlings!