Lessons in laughter at devils

SOUTH Africa’s inimitable national treasure: Pieter-Dirk Uys, performs in The Echo of a Noise at Montecasino until 7 May. Photograph courtesy Athlone News.

AS YOU PUT your hands together in salute of this theatre work, and shift yourself to stand in loyal ovation, you are celebrating and honouring not only this particular theatre work, but the treasure that Pieter-Dirk Uys is to this country. It’s a feeling that floods through the veins of The Echo of a Noise, a new iteration of a work by the same name, performed at Montecasino six years ago. It’s on the boards at the same theatre, until 7 May.

Unapologetically autobiographical, the work runs from Uys’s heart and mind and through your sensibilities like quicksilver, taking the extraordinary self-made career of a political jester from his early days of being a boy soprano in short pants all the way through a lifetime of making audiences laugh at the things that terrify them the most. For the time being, his alter-egos of the ilk of Evita Bezuidenhout or her sister Bambi Kellerman, to name a few, are closeted and referenced with but one pair of lipsticked lips.

Like the 2017 version of this work, this production offers a slice of Uys’s life, rich and textured, with snapshots of everything from Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman and English film director Alfred Hitchcock to the co-founder of Cape Town’s Space Theatre Brian Astbury and Yvonne Bryceland; from candid accounts of losses that he will never recover from and victories that formed the fabric of his being. Like many comedians on stage, Uys has a unique understanding of the mechanisms that make laughter happen. It’s an understanding peppered with the wisdom that the years have brought, but also one generously seasoned with what makes tears happen.

It’s largely a sober – and sobering – understanding of life, the universe and everything from the Uys family roots in the 1940s at 10 Homestead Drive in Pinetown, Cape Town and one which touches liberally yet gently on the universals that make you, as an individual, tick. The magic of imagination; the incredulity of great loss; the disbelief of social injustice; and the fiery thrill of making a difference to a world broken by the egos of others.

Woven together with an understanding and reflection of sound – from the happy familiarity of works by Chopin and Scarlatti under the fingers of his mother Helga, at different times of the day, to the scoldings, advice and vocal acceptance of his idiosyncrasies and dreams by his father, Hannes, or the call of his adored Sophia Loren from the cobbled streets of Rome, or the comments of his cat, Eschel, it’s a tale rich in so many echoes and shadows, ghosts and dreams that the work’s 90 minutes slips by in an instant.

It’s a beautiful work. One which pays tribute to Uys’s writing skills as much as to his performance acumen. The urgency to see it is tightened by a week. But see it, you must. And bring tissues.

  • The Echo of a Noise is written, directed and performed by Pieter-Dirk Uys. It performs until May 7 at the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino complex in Fourways. From 24 August to 10 September, Uys performs his work Sell-by Date, at Theatre on the Bay, in Cape Town.

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