Interview: Pieter-Dirk Uys of SELL-BY DATE at Theatre on the Bay Talks Politics, Theatre and Humour

This production runs from 17 May to 10 June.

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South African author, satirist, and social activist Pieter-Dirk Uys brings his latest show, SELL-BY DATE, to Pieter Toerien's Theatre on the Bay later this month.

The show, as expected from Uys' one-person
performances, features not only the man himself, but also a cluster of topical characters. Being active in live theatre since the late 1960s, he is not surprised when people now ask: 'When will you retire?' His answer is short and sweet: 'Not retire. Retread!' Below, Uys shares his thoughts with about the show and about how politics and theatre intersect in contemporary South Africa.

BWW: Let's start off with - What can audiences expect from SELL-BY DATE? Tell me a little bit about the show.

Pieter-Dirk Uys: It's a combination of what we all have been through: a pandemic and lockdown that lasted for two years; the cluster of disasters that lead to more chaos; the present daily roster of loadshedding that keeps us all in the dark for most of each day and the fact that our democracy has also possibly reached its sell-by date? My recent knee-replacement surgery has also reminded me of the fact that 77 is not the new 55! Then there is the new energy of cancel culture: for how long will it be possible to present Evita Bezuidenhout? Or is that now politically and culturally incorrect? What happened to acting? My show has a few hilarious hiccups of humour that will make people gasp and laugh at the madness of our world. Note: my sell-by date does not automatically become an expiry date!

BWW: Do you have any pre-show rituals? If yes, what are they?

PDU: Check the headlines to make sure all my chorus line of characters are still alive! And make sure that a load-shed does not affect the run of the show.

BWW: You say that you will not retire but instead that you will 'retread'. Can you elaborate on that?

PDU: A retreaded tyre can last for a long time. Retirement should be a choice, not a goal or jail. So many people over the 'retirement age' are still active and bright. They should carry on until they decide to slow down. The great thing about theatre is: there is no red line not to cross; as long as you speak clearly and don't bump into the furniture, your life on stage is secure!

BWW: Do you have a favourite character who you embody/have embodied?

PDU: I suppose the most difficult character for me to embody is 'Pieter-Dirk Uys'. Once I have him sorted out, the other characters can emerge and take over the space.

BWW: Taking stock of where South Africa currently is, what is your hope for the country? What is needed of us to deal with (some of) the many issues which we face?

PDU: My year used to have 365 days. Now it has two days: today and tomorrow. After the recent freeze-frame of lockdown, one is not that sure what lies ahead. Focus on the present and make it as perfect as possible. That can only help the day after. A visit to the theatre, to be part of a live experience, can help us all focus on what is optimistic and what needs to be fixed. Humour is a great weapon of mass distraction. Laugh at your fear and make it less fearful.

BWW: Do you believe that political theatre is still as relevant as it was during the days of the Struggle? What is its role - does it still have a place? How (if at all) would you say your work/material has responded to the ever-changing South African political landscape?

PDU: Struggle theatre was essential when we were in a struggle to embrace democracy. Now the struggle to be democratic has become the problem, and so I stick to my balance of 49% anger versus 51% entertainment. My work is to amuse, often offend and hopefully entertain. Politics is just the doggy-poo on the shoe. My political scriptwriters have never let me down, from the old National Party to the present ANC. The 2024 general election is a magnet that affects everything, and as I have repeated in many a show: hypocrisy is the Vaseline of political intercourse.

BWW: As a political theatre-maker, to what degree do you believe laughter and humour can be used as a tool to enact change? Or is this asking too much of comedy and satire?

PDU: It's all about the story: tell the tale and share the excitement with the audience. Comedy and humour make the world go around. I always hope to encourage laughter at things that people are afraid to confront. Rattle the cage and rethink what is taken for granted. And more important than anything: come and have a nice time!

BWW: What would you like audiences to take away from watching your most recent show?

PDU: 'My goodness! Is he still at it!'

BWW: Describe the show in three words.

PDU: Sell-by-Date.

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SELL-BY DATE runs from 17 May to 10 June at Theatre on the Bay. Tickets range from R150 to R250 and can be booked via Webtickets.


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