BURGERZ. Bright orange, all caps, across two flats. Travis Alabanza makes theatre that is audacious, funny and straight to the fucking point.
They appear stage right, in blue overalls, to unpack the set. Soutra Gilmour’s design is an oversized dollhouse, overflowing with cardboard boxes and semi-functional stage versions of kitchen units. Everything is in parts, and BURGERZ is about construction.
In April 2016, a burger was thrown at Travis in broad daylight whilst someone yelled a slur. BURGERZ uses the image of that projectile, and breaks it down into ingredients. It feels like construction is violent. Of words, of products, of genders. Travis mourns that the word trans is spoken as a synonym for broken body. Both UK and USA governments right now commit endless acts of violence in the name of building something, seeking an easily categorised world at the expense of the marginalised.
I really enjoy Travis as a performer. They have a gorgeous poise, and effortless hilarity. They climb into a box and maintain eye contact with the audience whilst shimmying off the overalls and into a dress.
‘The first time I wore a dress…. I don’t fucking remember. Go on, revoke my trans card’
I begin to feel frustrated at the extended use of the burger as a metaphor. Travis talks about choosing between burgers and hot dogs, putting burgers in boxes, and it feels very boxy and arbitrary compared to the complexity and beauty of their experience. Maybe that’s the point?
In the room next to the theatre space at the Hackney Showroom, there is an installation, with clothes hung from clear wire, gravity and suspense giving them curves and position. I love looking at a pair of hoops and a mini skirt suspended from the ceiling. It feels delicate and candid, and I wish Burgerz took the opportunity to relish itself a bit more, without getting weighed down in the meat patty and buns. What Travis is talking about must be more glorious than that.
‘2000 years ago there were gods that looked like me’
They ask for help from the audience.
Specifically, a cisgender, white man.
“Do you feel more nervous now than you would be walking outside?” “Yes.”
They prepare and cook the burger together. They navigate the huge curves of allyship and spectatorship, and Davey acts largely as witness to Travis’ trauma. But then he is asked abruptly to leave the stage, and another volunteer brought up in his place.
“I can still feel your hands around my neck”
I… find it frustrating when the audience member is targeted or blamed in pieces like this?
Not responsibility, that’s a different thing. Cis people have a collective responsibility to make the world better for trans people and we consistently fail.
But the ‘wow you watched me on stage and didn’t do anything’ type of targeting
in a theatre setting
the thing ‘how dare you engage with this performance in the only way I’ve presented to you’
makes me feel quite odd.
The replacement for Davey is cast in the role of a bystander on Waterloo Bridge, who watched the burger being thrown, and did nothing. Travis points at someone (we assume her to be a cis woman) in the audience and says “You look just like her”. Despite appearing uncomfortable, she is beckoned onto stage and she stands there in the role of aggressor. I leave thinking about visibly queer bodies. I stand in the corner and feel a bit wobbly. Burgerz is an unpacking of gender, or violence (trick question, they’re the same thing) which needs to lean into itself, and let us lean in too.
Burgerz is on at the Hackney Showroom until 3rd November. More info here.