South Africa

THEATRE REVIEW

‘Patisserie Femme’ is ‘mockumentary’ theatre that criticises living in a patriarchy

‘Patisserie Femme’ is ‘mockumentary’ theatre that criticises living in a patriarchy
‘Patisserie Femme’ performers Nomfundo Selepe (left) and Liphelo Matthews (right). Image: Sinezile Matutu

Written by up-and-coming playwright Jessie Diepeveen, ‘Patisserie Femme’ tackles a myriad issues concerning women’s plight in a world of male dominance.

Imagine a bakery filled with all kinds of delicious confectionaries: croissants, doughnuts, cakes and more. Now, imagine a bakery where there’s no sugary treats to be sold but, instead, women. This is the premise of Patisserie Femme, a play written and directed by Jessie Diepeveen and produced by newly established Three Pillar Productions

Described as a “mockumentary, meta-theatre style of performance”, the play begins with the sound of soft bossa nova-style jazz; actors Liphelo Matthews and Nomfundo Selepe walk on stage to deliver a high-energy and captivating performance. They play an eclectic group of characters that includes Papa Patriarchee, Cherry on Top and two yeast particles called Yeastica and Yeastiiesha. 

The introductory scene shows Papa Patriarchee and his intern introducing each piece of confectionery on offer at the bakery; each dessert referenced is a clever allusion to the unfair and ridiculous beauty standards set for women in society. There’s the much preferred vanilla eclairs and blonde pastries, or the pear-shaped panna cottas and the diversity token crème caramel; the dialogue is rich with metaphors that unveil the absurdity of the expectations placed on women. It points to all the creative and relentless ways that society has found to objectify and commodify the female body. 

Other skits include the Cherry on Top, who monologues about workplace harassment and virginity, and Buns in the Oven as a commentary on motherhood and reproductive rights. 

Performers Liphelo Matthews (left) and Nomfundo Selepe (right) deliver a high-energy and very physical performance in ‘Patisserie Femme’. Image: Sinezile Matutu

Nomfundo Selepe gives an admirable performance in ‘Patisserie Femme’. Image: Sinezile Matutu

The premise of the play is well-mined and what results is a comedic and rich performance that provokes the audience to think deeply about what it is like to live in a femme body in contemporary society. There is something quite jarring about the innocence of a bakery placed in contrast to the evils of the patriarchy – and it works quite effectively. 

When asked how she came up with the idea, Diepeveen told Maverick Life, “There were a number of instances that led me to this: once, at a casting, a casting director was giving me directions and kept calling me ‘sweetie’. He was quite a lot older and I thought, ‘He’s old, whatever, I’ll let it go’. 

“Other things were like my flatmate in second year. She’s a black woman and she was really frustrated when men would call her ‘chocolate’ or reference her beautiful ‘dark chocolate skin’. And it just got me thinking of all of the ways in which women are referred to in ways that allude to sweetness and you can’t be anything but [sweet].”

She explains that the play is inspired by the many experiences and the plight facing young women in South Africa as well as the protests against gender-based violence in 2019. She hopes each vignette in her play can show “a glimpse into the reality of many a woman’s life in this country, and around the world”.

Though Diepeveen is credited as the playwright, the creative process that spawned the play was a collaborative process that ensured an array of feminine perspectives were present. 

The actors in Patisserie Femme were involved in workshopping the play and Matthews explains, “I feel like a lot of people try to avoid these kinds of topics. What I appreciate about this play is the fact that the humour kind of tricks the audience into listening. …I am really grateful for a platform to be able to really speak about things that people aren’t wanting to talk about. Because these are things that affect women, or people that identify as women, all the time.”

Selepe adds, “It breaks down the barrier on things that are really taboo and things that make people feel really uncomfortable to talk about.”

Led by an all-women cast, Patisserie Femme was also produced by a women-led theatre collective called Third Pillar Productions. The collective includes playwright Diepeveen, the play’s stage manager Sinezile Matutu and production manager Thato Mosiuoa. The collective describe themselves as a “one-stop shop” that specialise in a diverse range of skills including directing, acting, script-writing and sound design.

Though the collective is newly established and was only founded at the start of 2023, Matutu notes that there is more exciting material coming.

“People can expect to see more of us and more of our work. They can expect to see us around Cape Town and hopefully in Gauteng. We really want to travel [with] our shows, locally and internationally.”

Mosiuoa adds, “You’ll see a lot of diverse works and different works that explore completely different topics across genres. All of it.”

Diepeveen hopes to get Patisserie Femme performed in various schools soon, as she feels the topics presented in the play will be educational for young people in South Africa. And though much of the piece reflects the experience of young women in this country, it is ultimately a performance that will force all kinds of audience members to reflect on their own role in the patriarchy.  

With a delectable array of humour, metaphor and innuendo, audiences of Patisserie Femme were in for a sweet treat. DM/ML

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  • Epsilon Indi says:

    It would be far more apropos for theatre to spend time criticising corruption than criticising the Patriarchy. Targeting anything other than the immorality embedded in our government and our society smacks of actors fiddling while the Union Buildings burns. The seriousness of the depravity in our government and its sins far outweigh the sins of the Patriarchy and therefore scream more loudly for corrective action.

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