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Check the picture and the characters carefully. You might recognise a few and be familiar with others. Pieter-Dirk Uys, that master of mockery, has created them all. With his production Adapt or Fly opening at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre on Wednesday for three weeks, he spoke to DIANE DE BEER about the characters and how they take to the stage
From left to right in the back row:
• A FEMALE figure in black, reputed to be the Saudi Arabian Princess to become Wife #5 (or is it 6?) to President Zuma so that his billion-rand homestead/compound/ palace/kraal Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal can get Saudi oil at a discount.
In Holland she was thrilled to be there and not across the border in France where the dress would be frowned upon and then she turned to her audience and asked: “Can u see the bomb?” while pointing to her tummy.
• Mother Theresa sits in penance about the fact that Jesus is deter- mined to wait till the ANC is out of power before he comes back. She’s there to rattle the cages of structured religion. But all the angels are on strike until Jesus comes back and he wants to wait.
• Old kugel Nowell Fine is one of Uys’s favourite friends, and coming on this road from Mangaung not just for the ride. She was created in 1975 and with those particular speech patterns, a woman one day turned to Uys and said in exactly that accent: “Who is she, I’ve never met anyone with that accent!” But she’s also the one that says the ANC is slow, they take their time and turn into every cul de sac before they find the freeway.
• Big Issue seller Bennie holds up his edition (a non-profit, pro-social development magazine) with Trevor Manuel punted for future president.
Apart from the politicians and celebrities, he is the only one of the characters based on a real person. He is a coloured bergie who Uys used to pull out of the gutter on his way from home.
Years later, this Big Issue seller greeted him and reminded him about those sad years “when I was coloured and you were white”.
Now he sells the Big Issue and works with street kids and told Uys to visit the children as Evita. “Let them laugh, and then we tell them the painful truth.”
• German Chancellor Angela Merkel wondering if the job as a bank manager in Athens wouldn’t be easier. And there’s the hair, the worst hairstyle in Europe.
“It looks as if she’s used grease to get it right,” says Uys, never at a loss for words. But with Merkel he also has to plan carefully because she and Bambi share a blonde wig. He has to stage-manage in fine detail to determine which one follows which and whether the show starts in pants and finishes in a skirt or the other way round.
• Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, all singing, all dancing, all wonderful and one of Uys’s most beloved characters. “He is my most important character.” He was also the first black person Uys ever did on stage.
“I need his optimism,” he says. But he’s also not scared to say things that he feels people should hear. “Lots of freedom, little speech,” is one of his favourite sayings.
“He is also the only other man in the country who wears a long purple dress,” quips Uys. But we need the good and Tutu both acknowledges and represents that.
From left to right in the front row:
• Retired Nationalist Minister Pik Botha brushing up on his Madiba Magic pops into Adapt or Fly. Of course he has joined the ANC and can’t remember anything about apartheid. “He’s a bit like a doorman, slightly mouldy,” says Uys.
• Bambi Kellermann is loving every moment of the limelight and that’s a good thing. Uys also sees her as his future. “I can’t keep doing this format that has been part of the show for 30 years,” he says. Partly he feels uncomfortable playing black people. “It’s really tough. I once tried to play Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and I looked more like Carmen Miranda on crack.” Bambi is his way into the last days of the Weimar Republic and that’s where his head is going. Watch this space.
• Pieter-Dirk Uys blissfully unaware of the trouble he is in for. And for the man himself, this is the toughest nut to crack. “I created that character,” he says, and then allowed him to turn the stage into his play- ground. It was in Australia when a talk show host asked him what he would have done if he had been born black in South Africa, and his reply stunned him and his family: “I would be building guns in Lusaka.”
Keeping out of trouble and skating just inside of what was considered the law was what created the show’s format he stills plays today: 49 percent anger and 51 entertainment. “I had to find a way to tell the truth. Good legs also helped!”
• Evita Bezuidenhout holding her adopted little Polokwanean baby is furious to be in the same set-up with her sister Bambi and the “third- rate comedian” next to her”; “Haai, shame,” says Uys when asked about her. But he has her on a new trajectory. She has finally turned and joined the ANC. She’s all about power and with the shift from one side to another, she knew she had to jump. “She is so rounded,” says Uys. “She’s all about people’s politics.”
Her next move is to Nkandla because she has decided to cook for the government. “If you’re too fat, the people will starve,” says the sage.
• PW Botha still in a state of shock realising that while he crossed the Rubicon, he just ended up in the Wilderness. Uys laughs at the irony that in his old age, he even looks like his old nemesis. “I can’t leave him off a show. Even if I just wag a finger and wiggle my tongue!”
In the end it is all about voting: “We have to make sure the future is there. It could disappear like soft perfume.”