How the bloody hell have veganism and cannibalism found themselves in the same piece of theatre? Mumburger’s extraordinarily odd subject matter is the very thing many, myself included, will find most appealing about this show, which also discusses parenthood, grief and the integrity of the artist. Oh we like a bit of that.
Sarah Kosar’s Mumburger plays with our senses almost immediately as a vision of psychedelic colour plays out on a projection; the accompanying noise almost too much to bear in the small space and on our unsettled feelings of the Unknown. Ultimately, this assault on the senses is the consistently strong aspect of director Tommo Fowler’s production. Charlotte Henery’s set is nondescript but the props play a large part in drawing us in with mostly disgusted fascination – especially so with a scene involving some burger flipping.
The story follows Tiffany (Rosie Wyatt) whose mother has just died after being in a horrific traffic accident with a Birdseye truck on the M25. She is trying to encourage her father, Hugh (Andrew Frame) to get on top of the inevitable post-death planning but he, apparently not much of a ‘doer’ prior to the incident, can’t muster up any power to do anything but look (quite rightly) shell-shocked. A bag of smelly, oozing takeaway containing meat is found on the doorstep and initially it is presumed to be a ‘condolences’ donation from a friend, until the note attached is read out and the origin of the meat is revealed to be the recently deceased who would like her family to eat her: cue plenty of indecisiveness and the smell of burning flesh wafting through the room. Yum…
This might be a good time to mention that Tiffany and Hugh are vegan, or at least they should be. It becomes increasingly clear that mum’s decision to be so, has long meant the same for her daughter and husband – whether they wanted it or not and they gradually reveal their individual bouts of ‘cheating’, which includes lots of Nando’s chicken. The treatment of veganism in Mumburger is ambiguous to say the least. The information we are given about Mum and her beliefs are vague but semi-positive with some facts thrown in: “2,500 gallons of water are needed to create one pound of beef”. Tiffany is well aware that her mum’s request to be mashed up into patties and eaten by her family isn’t one of perverse taboo but rather of spiritual oneness. From this we see the connection between her, her father and the unseen mother character. However, the play will generally be very hard to stomach for audience members who are vegan. It does not seem to be taken at all seriously, from the comedy attached to the ‘cheating’, the final act of defiance to the apparent irony in mum’s death. Mumburger is not clear on its Vegan standing, or rather Kosar isn’t. Constructively, it opens up a discussion but truthfully, as a vegan myself, I feel insulted.
There are some nice, even touching moments, including Tiffany’s resolution that her Spoken Word poetry is a waste of time: “it is self-indulgent and I’m too old for it.” In the safe space of theatre, many can feel her pain. Her growing relationship with her father Hugh and their shared habit of picking at their scalps is, whilst gross, a rare moment of human connection. His interpretation of what it means to be a father, quoting lines from Father of the Bride is vastly effective and very sad, as is the play’s look at grief as Tiffany watches others’ violent deaths online: “If I see someone else’s last moments, it’s not as real. It’s their disaster, not mine and that somehow makes it real”.
Overall, Mumburger is disappointing. Tiffany is selfish and immature and the devastation they and we should feel does not translate off stage. Frame’s performance is strong but Wyatt’s lacks conviction and is extremely grating. The laughs feel tasteless, out of place and where the play should be encouraging and informative on Veganism, it instead makes it seem like a joke.
Mumburger is playing at the Old Red Lion until July 22.