Burgerz @ Traverse Theatre
In their play Burgerz, Travis Alabanza takes the mundane burger and turns it into a vehicle for exploring issues of gender, race and transphobia
The genesis for Burgerz was a transphobic attack Alabanza suffered in 2016, when a man threw a burger at them. Alabanza was shocked less by the attack and more by the fact that nobody did anything about it. They subsequently became obsessed with burgers, and this obsession eventually led to this show, which premiered in London last October.
Alabanza discusses the ingredients that make up a burger and, crucially, the relationship between a burger and its box. An imagined dichotomy between hot dogs and burgers stands in for the dichotomy of male and female imposed by a cisnormative society. At times, Alabanza is gentle and playful; at others, angry, polemical.
Western theatre is so often dominated by cisgender white actors, so it’s fantastic to see a transperson of colour on stage. Alabanza is certainly one to watch, conveying a sensitivity that is moving and a courage that is empowering.
What works less well is the show’s reliance on audience participation for key elements. The inclusion of a cisgender white man adds an interesting new element to the play, and although this dynamic is amusing, it distracts from Alabanza’s own narrative. The discomfort that arises from this unpredictable new presence on the stage is presumably deliberate, but it results in Burgerz feeling tonally jarring, trivial on the one hand and serious on the other. Things aren’t helped by some technical difficulties on the night, as Alabanza and their assistant attempted to make a burger from scratch.
Burgerz is about “the continuous cloud” surrounding transpeople. It’s an important piece of theatre, especially at a time of worsening transphobia. It challenges us all to take a stand against injustice.
Burgerz, Traverse Theatre (Traverse 2), until 25 Aug (not 12, 19), various times, £5-21