Tammany Barton on stage with Danny de Bruyne psychological stage thriller, "Cupcakes and Commiserations". 
Picture: Supplied
Tammany Barton on stage with Danny de Bruyne psychological stage thriller, "Cupcakes and Commiserations". Picture: Supplied

"Cupcakes and Commiserations" expresses the true nature of the human condition

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Sep 18, 2019

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Audiences have until Saturday to catch "Cupcakes and Commiserations" at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square, Sandton.

Playwright and actress Tammany Barton sheds light on the inspiration behind the dark and thrilling two-hander. Interestingly enough, it was while she was working on herself that she found love again.

She added: “It is a story that asks men and women to evaluate their roles in relationships and how they affect one another daily. It’s the small things that make or break a relationship, and in the light of our current South Africa, #menaretrash, #metoo and #Notallmenaretrash, we hold up a mirror to society to really dig deep and think about these social movements on a more compassionate level.”

What inspired you to pen this play?

I was one of those lucky, or, not so lucky woman to experience a few crushing relationships, that hugely affected me. Age and wisdom helped me to realise there is very rarely only one “baddy” in the relationship. 

I understand that both add their own ingredients to their unified recipe. Sometimes, these two don’t mix well - the cupcakes flop, someone gets hurt, people point fingers and we hold onto the indiscretions, thus unconsciously moulding it into an ingredient for the next relationship and the vicious cycle continues. 

Do we ever stop and look at our partners and truly understand where they come from? Do we look at ourselves and practice self-love, compassion and empathy? If we both bring expired ingredients – what do you expect to bake? Without love for ourselves and one another, how do we stop the abuse? 

Through birthing this story, I realised I was tired of being the victim. Tired of repeating the cycle. I wanted a new story for myself and for other people too. I want the world to practice self-love. This story shows what happens when we abandon our self-worth, when we believe that we don’t have fresh, magical ingredients to bake a new reality.

Cupcakes and Commiserations expresses the true nature of the human condition. 

It highlights our lack of self-love. It demonstrates how we fall prey to a victim mentality. What if we stopped making it so hard for ourselves? Imagine if we embraced empathy?

In doing this work on myself – I have found the love of my life. It’s hard, but the recipe works in the end.

The title sparks familiarity among women. Is that why you went with it?

The cupcakes are an important symbol throughout the play. They help Nola connect with her husband, Frank. Food unites people in times of joy and pain. We use food to stuff down emotions or to heal our bodies. I just love how innocent, light and lovely cupcakes are in contradiction to the thriller experienced on stage. Not all is what it seems, not everything is as picture-perfect as we may think. How could cupcakes go wrong? (Unless you bake with me personally- insert laughter here). 

Cupcakes serve as Nola’s therapy. With her husband’s disappearance, a panic-stricken Nola turns to her mother’s cupcake recipe for comfort. There is something in old family recipes that conjure up emotions and memories connecting us hopefully to innocent, loving times. 

Personally, being in the kitchen with my mother cooking and baking when I was growing up was one of my favourite things. I often try to relive those memories in my own kitchen now. I can’t wedge cupcakes into a woman only category as I have a talented father who bakes and cooks like a king. 

Tell us about the challenges of wearing the hat of playwright and actress...

Being the playwright and the lead actress for your own show is one hell of a ride. It is not as easy as it seems. As the playwright, one would assume that I would be able to put on the characters hat in a heartbeat and perform it on stage (even know my lines by the first rehearsal). This is not the case. 

If anything, it has been a really challenging experience. With my writer's cap on, I have thoroughly enjoyed bringing this story to life. The research and time spent on understanding certain psychologies of the characters has had me up through the night many times unable to stop writing. 

I know my characters so well, I know where they came from, where they are going, how they think, what choices they would make. Even the characters who do not come to life on stage have an entire world that I am fully aware of. It’s like being an all-seeing, all-knowing entity. 

When I put the pen down and step into the challenging world of the character, I need to drop all my preconceived ideas, my understanding and love for the story and its characters and see the world as one dimensional through the eyes and heart of one character. I step into the human being. My character can no longer know anything. She needs only to be in the situations that she finds herself in. 

This is where the incredibly talented and masterful Penny Bramwell-Jones (the director) steps in. I literally handed over all my hats and capes to her and completely trusted and surrendered to her guidance and process to bringing the play together. 

I become the actor, and the story tells itself, the way it needs to. It’s no longer about the writer, the actors or director, it’s about serving the story. 

The most magical things happen when you trust, listen and feel. Every night Nola surprises me with something I didn’t know about her, that’s the joy for the actor.

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