Edinburgh Fringe 2019
In April 2016 on Waterloo Bridge, a burger was thrown at Travis Alabanza in broad daylight whilst someone yelled the word ‘tranny’, many people saw but no one did anything. Ever since, Alabanza has become obsessed with burgers – how they are made, how they look, how they smell, how they fly – in an attempt to gain control. In this direct and powerful performance Alabanza cleverly uses the burger as metaphor to explore gender, bodies and the cruelty of staying silent.
The show begins with Alabanza emerging from a shipping container, in overalls and boots, to reveal many cardboard boxes all sealed with pink tape. Boxes are an important theme – “What came first? The Burger or the Box for the Burger?” – calling into question why society is fixated on putting humans into categories. Alabanza courageously cooks a burger on stage from scratch but they do not do it alone: each performance will adopt a slightly different nuance as volunteers from the audience play a crucial role. As Alabanza goes through each stage of the burger-making process they unpack gut-wrenching personal stories mixed with a wider view of how trans and gender non-conforming bodies navigate the world.
This work feels very vital, something that every human should experience for its power and sense of unease. The audience is made to feel uncomfortable and complicit in violence, if we consider ourselves to be allies then we cannot just do nothing. Nevertheless, if this piece was unrelenting then it would not be enjoyable and Burgerz has the right amount of light-heartedness to temper the anger and hurt on stage. Travis Alabanza gives a raw and passionate performance which makes it impossible to look away, however difficult the material may be. They are confrontational yet the script contains enough poetry to balance brutality with beauty.
The design is very pleasing with symbolic boxes of varying sizes, the delight of a working hob on stage and a lively colour scheme of pink, turquoise and yellow. Details such as the neon perspex chairs and the colour coordinated chopping boards and knives make for a vivid and clear style. Alabanza transitions before our eyes from a masuline boiler suit to a belted dress and heels, perfectly balanced by their chic topknot. As a designer, I really appreciate the strong visual style of the piece – the costume clearly marks character and the set design is bright and bold which assists with communicating the strong message.
This show lingers in the mind. I came out of the theatre feeling shell-shocked by the tension and intense emotion of the performance. Nevertheless, I feel grateful to have been moved so sincerely by this call to arms. The audience are with Alabanza for the whole duration – the collective enrapture is palpable as we giggle and gasp simultaneously. This show is highly personal yet, equally, there is a direct universal message and we have to listen. Perhaps there is a slight sense of preaching to the converted – in this room of Guardian-reading theatre goers who have come along to see a show by “one of the UK’s prominent trans voices” there is unlikely to be a transphobic person. Nobody in the room would utter an offensive slur, however, I realise the point of the show is to say that we must speak up in the face of violence.
Burgerz is a show with many layers – it is built with the intent to shock but also contains crucial moments of vulnerability. Immerse yourself in this high intensity performance for a vitally human experience, I highly recommend it.