Travis Alabanza speaks from the heart. They open Burgerz with a short story about how someone threw a burger at them on Waterloo Bridge and shouted “tranny” in 2016. This anecdote of abuse is one of many that Alabanza refers to, but this burger-throwing ignites a fitting analogy – and burger-obsession – that dominates this fantastically imaginative exploration of what it is to be trans, and whether boxing people into a label is ever the right approach (short answer: no).
This is a one-person monologue, with a twist. As Alabanza decides to make a burger, they ask for a volunteer from the audience. More specifically, a white, cis-gender male. There is laughter from the audience as Alabanza declares the reason is that they have a lot to work through. Several white cis-gender men lift their hands gingerly. It seems like a daunting prospect to sit opposite Alabanza in this context, and it’s compelling viewing.
But Alabanza is a welcoming and friendly host. Yes, they use this white cis-gender male as a foil, an Other to bounce off, “a reference to something else”, and it works. Their approach to the issue and this facing up over the making of a burger – with mincing, onion chopping and frying all included – is original, peaceful, but also a strong warning. What it boils down to is someone attacked Alabanza, and the hundreds of people on the bridge who saw, did nothing.
Without giving all the details away this is personal theatre at its most raw, and while obviously a little nervous – Alabanza refers to their own hands shaking – it is that authenticity that really makes this piece come alive.
The set is also worth a mention. Soutra Gilmour’s design is a series of boxes, from the giant one that Alabanza emerges from to start, or the cardboard one they lie in to change into a dress. It’s deceptively simple, and effective. While the working kitchen unit thankfully throws no technical errors in the path of Alabanza’s monologue.
Funny, clever, and heartfelt, Burgerz is a piece that balances humour and emotion well. It’s must-see viewing that makes the despicable treatment of the trans community clear. As Alabanza says: “Doing nothing is a choice that you make.”
Burgerz is playing Hackney Showroom until 3 November. For more information and tickets, click here.