Live Review: Pieter-Dirk Uys, Soho Theatre, W1

South African Pieter-Dirk Uys has become a regular visitor to the UK over the years, but he usually comes in disguise. If he isn't dressed as his monstrous creation Evita Bezuidenhout he is doing a pin-sharp impersonation of Desmond Tutu or another famous political figure. This time round, in An Echo Of A Noise, it is a "And this is me..." performance, with Uys on his own in a t-shirt and impish grin telling his life story, which in effect is the story of South Africa since the 1940s.

I saw this show last week and was suprised to see that it received a lukewarm review from the Times. The subject matter might sound as if it is not for veryone, but Uys is such a captivating anecdotalist it soon pulls you in with more than mere laughs. There are haunting moments from his childhood as apartheid comes in. Some memories are chillingly funny such as when he sees a tattoo on the arm of one of his mother's Jewish friends and asks if it is her phone number. She suggests he tries to ring it.

Elsewhere the mood is lighter and a little namedrop-y. Uys wrote to film star Sophia Loren from an early age and they ended up becoming friends. He visited her in Paris when he was staying in digs run by a snob who called him "Monsieur Arse" until finding out about his famous chum. Later on Uys charmed British actors to donate money and come to his shows when he was starting out in the theatre in London.

It is not just funny and poltical, it is touching too. His relationship with his parents is beautifully drawn. After his mother's death things were not always easy with his old school father but in later years they clearly formed a close, tender bond. 

The show does, however, make few concessions to a non ex-pat audience. Uys has a habit of slipping into Afrikaans at the end of a gag and not always offering a translation. But this did not feel like a major issue in the same way that non-Yiddish speakers can get the gist of a Jackie Mason aside just by the rhythms of his speech. Uys conveys so much by a look or a shrug that there is no need for subtitles. It is hard to believe the performance lasts 90 minutes as it rushes by. Not necessarily a full-on comedy show, but certainly a fascinating history lesson.

Until June 16. Buy tickets here.


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