Review: Burgerz at the Traverse

In April 2016, writer, performer and theatre-maker Travis Alabanza was walking across Waterloo Bridge when someone shouted “tranny” and threw a burger, which hit them. There were around a 100 people on the bridge, but nobody said anything. Nobody stopped to help.

Like This Egg’s superb dressed., which returns to the Fringe later this month, Burgerz deals with trauma by remaking and claiming it, in this instance by actually making and cooking a burger on stage. This is a hilarious and heart-breaking 80 minutes that encompasses cookery demonstration (with a Fawlty Towers edge), a history lesson about thousands of years of trans and non-gender conforming bodies, a reminder of the everyday violence faced by many on the streets, and absolute faith in theatre as an act of activism.

One of the things the show does very smartly is to use the idea of theatre as a community to question how easily we become complicit in structures of oppression. We cannot succumb to bystander mentality – we must act, not just passively watch. As Alabanza puts it: “silence burns.”

This is a brave piece in every way, not just because Alabanza stands on stage before us desperately hurt but also loud and proud. Not just because the show has real faith in the possibility that theatre can change us, so even after we’ve all gone home, we’re still all together. It’s also courageous in form, demanding that Alabanza always responds in the moment, and breaks out of the script. A volunteer from the audience is invited on stage to help make and cook the burger. On the night I saw it, the volunteer turned out to work in a burger bar.

Alabanza elegantly spins the metaphor around expectations of how a burger must look (not like a hot dog) and even the shape of the carton it will be served in to explore narrow ideas about gender. Soutra Gilmour’s design plays on the idea of being boxed in.

Audience participation means that to some degree this will be a different show every night, but the unpredictability is part of its appeal. That, and the fact that Alabanza takes an act of violence and transforms it into something both beautiful and brutal. In the process it reminds that personal freedom to walk down the street is “not freedom without yours.”

Burgerz, Traverse, 6-25 Aug, times vary

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