The secret to Evita Bezuidenhout’s 22 years of enduring and controversial popularity? Making hard work appear effortless. As we’ve mentioned before, age has imbued a more sensible and faintly muted political softening of the grand dame of South African satire. And with Evita Bezuidenhout and the Kaktus of Separate Development, she’s back in top form, ready to roll with another hilarious foray into our cultural spectrum.
Theatre on the Bay’s intimate and cosy stage evokes a much more exclusive and tailor-made mood to this show, and Pieter-Dirk Uys is still as incredibly sharp-witted and tenacious as ever, bubbling with barbed lines even when off-script.
The production kicks off with a ravishing Evita drawing in chuckles without the utterance of a single word. Dressed to the nines with not a hair out of place, she makes her stumbling entry stepping through Theatre on the Bay’s shimmery curtains and… under a ladder. For those not familiar with the old-wives superstition, walking underneath an open ladder is akin to blasphemy. What a perfect promise to the rest of the evening.
The Kaktus of Separate Development’s comedy topic du jour is updated with a tenacious rampage into the likes of Julius Malema and Jacob Zuma. But it doesn’t stop there. Uys gradually works his way from Nelson Mandela (how neatly he kept his small cell) to Thabo Mbeki (taking a piercing stab at his brick-thick and overcompensating autobiography). The trouble with Uys’ Evita is that we are all in glee when the mockery is aimed at our enemies, and at those we regard objectively as ludicrous. But the true test, surely, is if we still laugh when it is directed at those we put on a saintly pedestal. Satire executed masterfully is one that is accessible to everyone, regardless of political leanings or fandom. With this production, Uys attacks everyone evenhandedly and with the brazen self-confidence to occasionally attack himself. He implicitly details Evita’s turncoat ways by explaining how she was hoodwinked by the National Party, and her weathering optimism for the country and ties to the ANC. As he bemoans the dubious origin of the Afrikaner, it seems Uys is still fiercely – even tiringly – patriotic.
Evita’s Afrikaner tannie-style anecdotes are generally more successful than her jokes. The gossipy one about a hilarious elevator encounter with a groping male proves an audience favourite. Unable to recall the mystery man’s identity, she notes that he was orange haired. And her matter-of-fact recollection of casually bumping into a wide-eyed Jessie Duarte in the foyer of Luthuli House, has us laughing away like loons.
I used to think satirical comedy was a medium accessible to all, but of late it seems audience members are perhaps somewhat complacent towards the current state of political affairs. On the night of the performance I attended, there was a large number of people who appeared either to be blasé or silently offended and disappointed. Yet the entire experience ended up being eerily cathartic. More than anything, this was a stark reminder of the value of live performance.
In an internet-obsessed society where everyone is an analyst, comedian, and PR executive, my sense is that people are sick of hearing about Zuma, Trump, Brexit and the usual band of misfits. Luckily Uys brims with a rare tactful creativity, weaving current affairs into Evita’s brand of comedy to drive the point home. Uys is well aware that in 2017, it is simply not enough just to tell some cute jokes for cheap laughs. There must be some moral depth to it all.
With Evita Bezuidenhout and The Kaktus of Separate Development, Pieter-Dirk Uys presents a production that is as tightly woven as Afrikaner correctness, but brilliantly disrespectful and laced with a moral twist to fit into our contemporary vernacular.
Benn Van Der Westhuizen
Evita Bezuidenhout and The Kaktus of Separate Developmen runs at Theatre On The Bay from 20 June to 1 July 2017.