Travis Alabanza has a story to tell: A burger is thrown on Waterloo Bridge in London, mayonnaise sticks to a dress and no-one comes to help. On stage Alabanza appears from a large packing case with a ready-made kitchen, electrics and utensils; cardboard boxes and pink tape. The idea is to make a burger, find out what it’s like… “how it flies”. Alabanza says “I’m obsessed with this… I want to get agency… control”; to seek resolution with the weapon. Alabanza talks about choices “Hot dog or Burger?”, changes, differences and expectations. These themes are played out in the making of a burger: the bun, the patty, the trimmings. All these are analysed and explained in clever ways, cut, moulded and chopped to create a show.
There is droning background music as the audience enters, harsh backlighting, a feeling of menace. Alabanza lightens the mood with wisecracks and hand mime. Beneath the blue boiler suit is a vivid dress and bright belt; Alabanza is disappointed at our modest response to the reveal but cheers up when the young audience is wowed by the high heels.
There are clever improvised lines thrown in amongst the emotive and forceful words of the script, and the contrasts work well. As do the historical references of non-binary figures and characters from diverse cultures. Alabanza taints this good work with occasional throw-away clichés which wouldn’t stand up to analysis, and needn’t do if Alabanza hadn’t made such a prominence of underpinning this show with factual argument. There is both criticism and use of stereotypes, sometimes in the same turn of phrase. The show relies heavily on audience participation to a degree that detracts from Alabanza’s natural talents as a performer and entertainer. The initial interplay between performer and audience volunteer works well though. Alabanza grows more monologic, the language more dense, as the show progresses; the satisfying subtleties of Alabanza’s script and Sam Curtis Lindsay’s direction suffer for this.
We are in an age of YouTube influencers, Twitter rants and RuPaul so theatre like this has to work hard in finding innovation. One person’s critique of the world around us can be narrow and insular and Alabanza expects a lot from his audiences who must answer questions of blame and accountability. Nonetheless Burgerz is an intense show with challenging elements around lifelong struggles and insecurities. There are themes of race, gender, sexuality and class that are both provocative and inspiring. A forthright, thought-provoking performance from a capable and energetic performer. Adrian Mantle