Wrinkles, come with mirth!

AT 77, Pieter-Dirk Uys is considering his own sell-by date, with a box full of costumes and knees in need of TLC. Photograph by Bridget van Oerle, The Buz Factor.

HOW DO YOU look back on close to six decades of incredulity at the caveats and bouquets of humour so off the wall that only politicians could have written them? Pieter-Dirk Uys’s latest theatre production, Sell-By Date, which performs at Montecasino until 10 September looks at a lifetime of taking the piss, and the vagaries of doing it from within an ageing body. With or without grace.

It’s a show that will move you to tears for multiple reasons. This is our jester who gave us the narratives of his rich and detailed life as he granted us the power to laugh at the things that terrify us the most. His barbs against the idiocy that headlines our society now are no less poisonous and sharp than they were during apartheid, but speaking from a place of the authority that age affords, he can again look with a grin of disbelief at the madness of a woke era in which the very fabric of drag is frowned on, by the youth.

From knees that need replacement to the memory which can trip and fail, Uys takes on the caprices of being alive in an ageing body with a mix of candour, humour and the cringeworthy. Like the work of Peter Terry which is as much about brokenness in body and courage in spirit and that of the late dancer-choreographer David Toole who gloriously celebrated a body with difference, for instance, the work is irreverent and beautiful in its reflection on the taboos and don’ts of the world in which we live.

And as the poster promises, there is a scattering of your favourite Uys characters, with a kernel of heart and a bit of a social hand grenade in each one. Jimmy, the ‘Bergie’ has been a witness to so much for so long. He conducts traffic in his spare time during loadshedding, without legal liability, and with his beanie drawn below his eyebrows, he laughs at the way in which our politically correct youth frown upon him.

Nowell Fine, the activist Jewish woman who Uys invented even before he brought Tannie Evita Bezuidenhout into the world is sadly, not the firebrand she once was. Given the docility of South African Jewry, Nowell’s political feistiness in the world is of a previous generation. And stereotypes aside, the real Nowell would probably have skedaddled to happier shores, by now.

Uys’s facial gymnastics are another delicious highlight to the work. With a snarl and a pointed finger, he is PW Botha. And with hands held in a particular way, he becomes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, sans the purple dress or wig.  Just pure skill.

And then, there is Evita herself. The jewel in Uys’s crown in so many ways – the Afrikaans-speaking lady unequivocally celebrated as the most famous white woman in South Africa, respected (mostly) back in the day by everyone from the apartheid government, to Nelson Mandela himself. With hairdos cropped sensibly and tapered down to suit the age and the fashions for women in their seventies, both Nowell and Evita are a little tired around the edges, but have aged with grace and dignity.

Like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, Uys bargains a tad with God. The world is shifting and swaying in such peculiar ways; all he needs is another three years to imbibe what happens next.

The show is bracingly honest, bitingly critical and one in which you leave with a heart full of love for a performer who had the courage to take on South Africa’s insanity and show it to all of us. In the mirror.  It’s a show premised by a plastic box in which all the costumes are deposited, after he’s used them, for repurposing and for sale to the benefit of the SPCA.

Sell by date is written, directed and performed by Pieter-Dirk Uys, at the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino complex in Fourways until 10 September. Tickets through webtickets.

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