THE BIG INTERVIEW: Ticking the right boxes
There are 16 boxes on stage, each containing a secret stash of costumes and props. By picking and choosing which box Pieter-Dirk Uys unpacks the audience has the power to decide the narrative outcome of his new show.
In An Audience with Pieter-Dirk Eish, Uys knows what the boxes contain but he has no idea what sequence of choices audiences will make.
"It's the most interesting fun I've ever had on stage," he says. "You make the show. You decide."
With this work, Uys makes a transition from presenting "a narrative of punchlines" to giving the audience the responsibility to decide on the story. As with the responsibilities that come with democracy, he is giving his audience the freedom to decide on the outcome of their entertainment.
At 67 he is still as passionate about our political life as he has always been.
"This is our country. You have to know what went wrong, because those things can come back. Freedom is earned," he says admitting to worrying about South African apathy.
"Freedom cannot be taken for granted."
By making people think, talk and laugh, uncomfortable truths are constructed and deconstructed. The boxes can be seen as a metaphor for the building blocks of democracy. By rearranging and unpacking them there is "mass destruction" preventing the rot from setting in permanently.
"People are always surprised that they laugh at things that frighten them. They laugh at things they don't want to think about. Violence, disease, rape - these aren't funny. But fear, prejudice and hypocrisy - look at them closely and you'll laugh. If we don't address these issues, they will grow." With each box, Uys changes character, make-up and clothes. Personalities include his alter-ego Evita Bezuidenhout, Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher and maybe even PW Botha.
His audiences, Uys says, are multi-generational. People of "my generation remember the past. Many are awkward about race. But then there are the under-25s, who sometimes don't know what the f**k I'm talking about.
"I tell them to keep their phones on. Verwoerd? They must Google what they don't know."
Comparing his early work to today's, Uys says that for years it was obvious what the targets were. "There was one target and it was wrong. Boom. And there was an alternative."
He says he is grateful that we didn't have a Syria season.
"But the kids are pissed off. They were born after Mandela was freed and they have had a kak education. They don't have the money to go to university, and no facilities to get jobs. They are not stupid."
The Arab Spring could still come to South Africa, he warns, but while we have a democracy we must know whose fingers are in the pie, and know what the pie is.
"[Jacob] Zuma is going to be here for a long time - not as long as it will take to get an Australian visa - so read up about him. Find out about the man who is looking after your pension and your children's education."
Talking about the Zumification of South Africa, Uys says on the one hand: "I am delighted to see a South African president and not a copy of a British president like Thabo Mbeki was.
"I like Zuma's skins, his singing, but don't underestimate him. He is very astute and very clever. He is like a chameleon."
Uys says Zuma watched quietly as Julius Malema performed political theatre and did nothing, but, "suddenly out comes his tongue."
But the 67-year-old satirist and performer, who has lost none of his enthusiasm and active interest in politics, says the secrecy bill will change everything again.
"If it is passed, I will guarantee the audience that every one of my boxes has a secret. What are the police going to do? Come every night? I am not going to keep quiet. N.O. No."
- An Audience with Pieter-Dirk Eish opens on Tuesday and runs until May 25 at the Theatre on the Square, Sandton.
PIETER-DIRK'S OTHER LIFE
I'm listening to . an iPod with more music on it than I have ever collected or collectively listened to in my life.
Reading . Hilary Mantel's massive paperback Wolf Hall, which doesn't allow you to skip a word or a paragraph.
Eating at . La Perla restaurant, Beach Road, Sea Point, which is my stomach's favourite retro experience. Been happy there since the 1960s.
Drinking . in the garden of the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town with a perfectly etched Table Mountain against the bluest sky. Was it all filmed against green in a studio and then photo-shopped?
Watching . an albino squirrel preen and behave like a movie star on a branch before he leaps down and steals a nut out of the bowl next to the glass of chardonnay.
The funniest thing I've heard . is the mindless optimism about the Protection of State Information Act which kicks us back into the Broederbond dark ages.