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Adapt or Fly
Directed and performed by Pieter-Dirk Uys
Venue: Theatre on the Bay
Until January 25
Vintage Uys is what this feisty one-hander has to offer audiences as its seasoned performer hustles us through the history of South Africa from 1945 to the present day, with autobiographical commentary on the side. (Uys was born in 1945.)
The show opens with a chilling analogy between Germany in the early 1930s and South Africa in the run-up to this year’s elections: Herr Hitler, perfectly impersonated by Uys, has taken a break from hell to offer Julius Malema advice and encouragement on his path to power and glory. And there is nothing fanciful in the scenario.
Thereafter Adolf returns to his eternal habitat, and a series of brilliant caricatures follows as we are taken back to the mid-20th century, reviewing the politics and personalities, the insanity and idiosyncrasy that shaped this country’s history over 50-odd years.
As one has come to expect, Uys captures the accent, body-language and mannerisms of the people he portrays in magisterial fashion, and although some of the material is not new, it is refreshed through the evergreen satirist’s zest and acerbic humour.
A gem is his characterisation of Pik Botha, complete with unfocused gaze and self-vindicating refrain of “I wasn’t there” (referring to apartheid South Africa when he was minister of foreign affairs).
After interval momentum is lost as the show resolves itself into several cameos inspired by personal dramas in the aftermath of the apartheid era. So we encounter descendants of a woman evicted from her Newlands home, dispossessed and relocated to the Cape Flats, and an elderly Jewish lady due to return to South Africa after visiting her émigré relatives in Canada. Along with the characters is a meditation on the rich texture of life in South Africa.
However recognisable, the individuals of these vignettes lack the robust authenticity of the pre-interval impersonations, possibly because they are stereotypes rather than personalities from real life.
That said, Uys remains a master of disguise and mimicry to the end, relying on the minimum of costumes and props. As an exercise in intelligent, thought-provoking entertainment, Adapt or Fly is hard to beat.