The most famous white woman in South Africa, Mrs Evita Bezuidenhout, is in fact satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys in a frock. Mrs Bezuidenhout is so well-known that Uys has just taken her, off his own bat, on a 60-date "voter education through entertainment" tour in "Evita's Ballot Bus" prior to last month's elections.
Uys has been visiting the Tricycle annually since 1995, and has also made several Edinburgh appearances. This, however, is the first time I have actually seen him perform. I must admit to a certain sensation of coming in after the interval, as it were: Uys contextualises his material adroitly enough for non-South Africans, but the element of context most sorely lacking for me was an awareness of the extent to which he – or at least Mrs Bezuidenhout – is an institution in his home country. This, after all, is a man who has impersonated former ministers such as Pik Botha to their faces, and not in order to flatter them (he still "does" P.W. Botha, and bemoans the fact that he no longer needs make-up to do so), and whose programme for this show includes a letter of support from then-President Mandela which refers to Mrs Bezuidenhout's recent speech before the South African parliament – as Uys remarks, "Can you see Lily Savage in the Houses of Parliament here?"
Little by little, Uys's stage manner overcomes almost all such reservations: when not in one character or another, he does not deliver material so much as chat easily to an audience, recounting details of the ballot bus tour and various other aspects of the new "Rainbow Nation" (including the linguistic PC-ism which gives the show its cheeky title). He gives every appearance of complete relaxation in these passages, even though the script may call for him the next moment to become a Cape Town bag person, a white Jo'burger now consigned to endless queueing for various bits of official identification, or even a quick burst of Bill Clinton. A couple of these sketches – one of an ex-interrogator appearing before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and as an elderly Holocaust refugee who now finds herself "Old Europe trapped in New Africa" – hit a masterly blend of humour and poignancy; in most of the material, though, the comedy has the upper hand, such that the persistent undertow of honest mickey-taking is delicately packaged. On the press night, the De Beers company had booked much of the balcony, so both in propria persona and as Mrs Bezuidenhout, Uys made passing comments about the diamond trade in general and de Beers in particular; his victims lapped it up. It is appropriate that the name of the Western Cape village in which Uys lives, and whose former railway station he has converted into a club, is called Darling.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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