Writer and Performer: Travis Alabanza
Director: Sam Curtis Lindsay
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Two years ago, while walking across Waterloo Bridge a man yelled ‘Tranny’, and then threw a burger at Travis Alabanza, a trans person of colour. About 100 people witnessed this transphobic assault, and yet nobody did anything. No one helped Travis clean up the mayonnaise that had landed on their dress. No one came up to ask if they were okay. People just looked and then carried on. Burgerz, a show about this incident, may be Alabanza’s catharsis, but it’s also a call to arms.
The attack on Alabanza is awful, but what is more awful, is the fact that Alabanza has to go up on stage to relive it before we sit up and take any notice. There are about 100 people in the audience at Hackney Showroom. Will any of them intervene or at least stop and ask if Alabanza is okay?
Burgerz comes to Hackney in the same week that President Trump announced plans that the American government will officially link gender with the genitalia people are born with. Gender would be fixed and biological. The trans community quickly spoke up against this proposal and the hashtag #WeWontBeErased went viral. Unfortunately, transphobia is a huge problem in Britain too, despite the posters that recommend that trans people call the police if they are a victim of hate crime. ‘Call the police?’ Alabanza exclaims. ‘Why would you want to bring more trouble to your door?’
To relive this attack, Alabanza first has to make a burger with the audience’s help. They wheel on a mini-kitchen but unlike those on Ready Steady Cook, this one has a mini-bar. Part cooking show, and part autobiography, Burgerz is often very funny, and Alabanza has a commanding stage presence, last seen when they played the lead in the theatrical version of Jubilee, Derek Jarman’s queer punk film of the 1970s. Alabanza can elicit quite a response from a hand gesture, or a knowing look.
But in the last half of this one-hour show, the comedy is replaced by anger, and Alabanza’s anger burns as much as the burger that overcooks behind them. And we are responsible for Alabanza’s rage, especially the white, cis-men in the audience. Not since Penny Arcade’s Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!, which examined the AIDS epidemic in New York, has anger been so moving and cleansing. Alabanza’s performance is just as visceral, and they play with theatrical conventions to make sure the audience is implicit in the attack on Waterloo Bridge. This discomfort is reminiscent of Jamal Harewood’s The Privileged, where the audience is also guilty of violence.
Played out on Soutra Gilmour’s clean set with a shipping container full of boxes and XANA’s tidy sound design, Burgerz never feels contrived, despite its clever framework. This one-person show has the potential to make us all better people, perhaps an extravagant claim, but in this case true. Travis Alabanza is a magnetic performer, and Burgerz is life-changing theatre.
Runs until 3 November and then tours