Claire L Bell
Claire L Bell

Waar is Tannie Evita?

I feel like a traitor criticising Pieter-Dirk Uys, but he’s a big girl, he can take it.

Fifty Shades of Bambi is PDU’s 2010 show, now back on circuit. I saw it last Thursday at Cape Town’s Kalk Bay Theatre, and it’s set to open tonight (February 25) in Joburg for a three-week run.

The show does not star Evita Bezuidenhout, the grand dame of South African satire. The coiffured starlet who for decades shone her sequins on the injustice and inequalities of apartheid, and has continued to use her glittering wit to cut through its long tail, flinging scathing attacks at corrupt factions within the political elite and ongoing racial hypocrisy.

Rather the star of this show is Bambi Kellerman (aka Baby Poggenpoel), Evita’s little sister who left the country in the 1950s to become a stripper in Hamburg.

Sounds promising. And at first it is. Bambi arrives sporting a Marlene-Dietrich accent, a leather trench coat that once belonged to her Nazi husband, and an armful of sex toys, children’s toys and pet toys: “Who can tell the difference between them?” she demands of the audience.

Accompanied by Godfrey Johnson on the piano, Bambi launches into a series of cabaret-esque songs that lament South Africa’s repressive attitudes towards sex education and suggest a link between this backward thinking and the country’s high incidence of rape, HIV, unwanted pregnancies and tik addiction. Every now and again you get a flash of Evita-like acerbic wit, but then it’s gone again, under a brooding German vrau who is (rightfully) jealous of her big sister and who seems to have no clear raison d’etre.

As the show dragged on, one question loomed large in my head: Why in election year, why as we barrel towards the 20th anniversary of our democracy, is Evita not on stage? Where is our shining moral touchstone? Where is the voice that has always raged against the machine?

The answer, perhaps, comes in the latter part of the show, when Bambi belts out her bravest and best number: Is that all there is? first made famous in 1969 by American singer, Peggy Lee.

In this part-story, part-song, Bambi looks back over her life, reminiscing about the best of times (going to a circus), the worst of times (watching her house burn down), and remembering how gut-wrenchingly disappointing these events really were.

“If that is all there is,” concludes Bambi, as a deep, loamy sadness fills the theatre, “then let’s keep dancing. Let’s break out the booze and have a ball”.

It feels like a swan song for someone who is gatvol and running low on the infinite energy needed to care about South Africa’s politics, and if that’s true, then it’s not Bambi’s song to sing, it’s Evita’s.

Fifty Shades would be a more poignant, honest, canary-in-the-mine comment on pre-election South Africa if the curtain had opened to an Evita in her dressing gown and curlers, an Evita with her feet up backstage, an Evita who apologises to her darlings for not being up for it tonight, because well, sy’s a bietjie moeg van al die sturm und drang: “Let’s rather drink some brandewyn darlings, put on some old records and do a little cha-cha-cha.”

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