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EVITA FOR PRESIDENT (article first published : 2007-05-31)

Pieter-Dirk Uys's latest show, Evita for President, gets off to a great start. Uys comes on stage as Adriaan Vlok in foot-washing mode and immediately scores a couple of telling points. But Uys, more than most South African satirists and comedians, has a problem these days.

His stated aim is to make people laugh at the things that frighten them (including Jacob Zuma and Jackie Selebi), and in the apartheid days he did it very effectively. But now satirists, particularly white ones, have to tread a very fine line.

Many make the mistake of aiming for targets that play too cosily into audience prejudices. The audiences for their shows are still predominantly, though not entirely, white, and the targets will get a laugh but the prejudices are entrenched ones and all the jokes do is confirm to the audience that they are right to whinge. Even if the satirist is intending to mock their fears, the audience all too often misses the irony.

Uys is far too clever and too subtle to take that approach, but it leaves him in the tricky position of not being able to aim his barbs squarely for the jugular. This show roams over South African society, with Uys giving us a host of characters, both new and old, but the viciousness that true satire needs is not there.

However, he is still funny, and among the best characterisations are the Muslim woman from the Cape whose husband is "too white" to get the job he has applied for, and Adriaan Vlok. Nowell Fine, Uys's liberal Jo’burg Jewish persona, is still appealing - and to watch her put her make-up on as she talks to the audience is still wonderful, however many times you have seen it.

Motormouth Kader Asmal is among the new characters, and from the old pantheon, Pik Botha makes an appearance. Uys still has him pat, but maybe it is time the old fraud was allowed to ride off into the sunset. After all, South Africa has plenty of new frauds to draw on.

The format is that Uys, never off stage, transforms himself into all his characters, giving an overview of the state of the nation from their various perspectives. And then Evita Bezuidenhout makes her grand entrance.

From the title of the show, I expected her to give her manifesto, answering the problems that had been raised by those who had gone before, but, despite being as glamorous and provocative as ever, as a potential politician, she was strangely muted - perhaps she is just too much the grande dame for the rough and tumble of the hustlings.

Evita for President is an entertaining evening, but if you are looking for the kind of satire that will make you cringe - and think - you will not find it here. - Margaret von Klemperer

Booking for Evita for President is at Computicket. Shows are at 8 pm Tuesday to Friday; 5 and 9 pm on Saturdays and Sundays at 3 pm, running until June 10. Tickets range from R80 (Tuesdays) to R100 (Wednesdays, Thursday and matinees) and R130 (Friday and Saturday evenings).




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