Well known and respected in his native South Africa, Pieter-Dirk Uys and his fictional creation Evita Bezuidenhout enjoy a similar place in the national consciousness over there as Dame Edna Everage does here. He pursues a far more political and satirical path than the average cross-dressing comedian, but having been a part of the showbiz light entertainment world since the 1970s seems to have left him - and his material - slightly jaded.
Uys’ latest solo piece, Evita for President, is not drama in the narrative sense of the word, but a series of character sketches, representing different facets of life in South Africa and offering various perspectives on the upcoming presidential leadership race there. These personalities include a Big Issue seller on the streets of Cape Town, an old-guard pre-Apartheid politician strenuously denying any personal wrongdoing whilst paying lip-service to the new democracy, and a puppet version of current leader Thabo Mbeki, who has his feet washed by the chief of police.
Evita herself, oddly, only appears in the final instalment; for anyone uninitiated to the lady or the format, the concept of the show may be weakened.
Uys, employing minimal props and stick-on moustaches, is adept at transforming himself, and his acting conveys just the right tone – immersion within the role but sufficiently self-aware. In this way, he’s able to comment on politics, AIDS, violence, and his own performance, always with a healthy dash of irony. However, he spends rather too long out of character, and while he appears to be a very nice, thoughtful individual, listening to him reminisce feels much like indulging a sweet, yet slightly tedious and corny grandfather.
Not being fully aware of the complexities of the situation in South Africa, I was prepared to let a few things fly over my head. And, while the evening was certainly informative, if I’d wanted to examine the ins and outs of African politics, I’d have been enlightened just as much by spending an hour on Wikipedia.
But above all this – and there really is no getting away from it – the show is just not funny. Uys has obviously been a great influence in his time and done many praiseworthy things (his community theatre programme being a shining example), but tired clichés, laboured puns, and lethargic jokes simply don’t work anymore. This is a talented artist in dire need of a sharp scriptwriter.
- Stuart Denison