Flying burgers inspired Travis Alabanza to create the searing, powerful Burgerz. Daniel Perks reviews a show that reclaims the violence and examines our own complicity:

Travis Alabanza was shocked when they were hit by a burger and a transphobic slur on Waterloo Bridge in 2016. They were not shocked when no one did anything to help them.

And that is hard to hear. Hard but unsurprising.

Burgerz Traverse Theatre
Travis Alabanza (image courtesy of Lara Cappelli)

The searing honesty and confidence with which Alabanza delivers Burgerz on a press night mired in technical issues is admirable. And it cuts to the core when they ask for help from the audience, specifically those who represent the social category of the attacker – the cis white man. Because Alabanza becomes obsessed with burgers after the event, seeking agency over violence through detailed, poetic discourse. Their prose quickly cuts to our basest instincts with meaty humour, each monologue balancing comedy and power as finely as the perfectly spiced, sizzling patty. Every portion is a juicy mouthful that leaves you wanting more.

And there’s more than just meat in this show. Burgerz is rich in subtext – the dough that becomes the burger bun; deciding on the burger box shape before the food in question; the commitment to either be a burger fan or a hot dog supporter. Each metaphor adeptly speaks to the need in which we label, categorise and limit potential. Even when thinking about the eponymous food, Alabanza pre-empts an archetypal image of said dish in the audience’s minds. It’s the emoji burger – beef of course – with the expected accoutrements of lettuce and tomato.

Burgerz Traverse Theatre
Travis Alabanza (image courtesy of Lara Cappelli)

So, when it comes to asking the cis white man for help in cooking the burger – an attempt to reclaim the violent act as one may reclaim a derogatory term and turn it into a message of empowerment – Alabanza appears nervous but determined. But they stand with unabashed vulnerability, and in doing so exude a strength far greater than the act of projectile cowardice that set them on this trajectory.

And yet – despite a solidary, supportive audience despite the courage of Burgerz to address such transphobia head-on – the mirror of a harsh current society is still reflected in Alabanza’s epilogue. It’s one that attempts to isolate, “the best tactic of oppression”, to pretend as though nothing is happening and avoid such confrontation required for equality, diversity, change.

Burgerz Traverse Theatre
Travis Alabanza (image courtesy of Lara Cappelli)

Burgerz ends with the physical act itself, this time with a promise to do better.

To stand up.

To try.

A standing ovation is the mark of agreement and consent.

Hopefully no one will be assaulted in this way again. But at least with an artist like Alabanza, and a show like Burgerz, there is a chance that someone will intervene if flying hatred wings its way through the air.

★★★★☆

Burgerz is now playing at Traverse Theatre until 25 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.