REVIEW: BURGERZ (Hackney Showroom) ★★★★
Travis Alabanza comes across as an introverted activist – the term being paradoxical and so very illustrative of the call for altruism their show represents. In a world blistered with prejudice, BURGERZ arrests the audience from the hellish fever dream of daily violence and discrimination we all live in; the world which has caused our survival instincts to numb compassion; the one which seldom sees us wince anymore at the isolated acts of terrorism performed everyday. Alabanza take us into a place of calm, not necessarily comfort – in fact the show is wholly uncomfortable – but a state which re-educates us in the basics of what it means to be human: What it means to be humane.
In 2016, someone hurled a burger at Alabanza’s head while over 100 people watched and not one person arbitrated. In order to process the ordeal, the performance artist decides to explore the food in its minutiea; the dough for the bun, at which density it is cut, how the beef patty is spiced, cooked, topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, in which order the layers align and so on and so on. What amalgamates is a rough version of what we expected all along. But with all this work, the real pain is recognising that the burger has to be wasted, untouched and pointlessly and pointedly thrown.
The set is two-fold, accommodating the many metaphors imposed by the piece. A wooden cuboid is opened to reveal a host of cardboard boxes which Alabanza costume changes in, bursts through, and teeters over the edge of. A little on the nose with the notion of boxing people into categories, perhaps, but nevertheless relevant and dynamically utilised. From the set, emerges an impeccably neat kitchen cabinet with a stove, fridge and bin where all the action takes place.
The main premise of the show is the artist’s interaction with a male, white, straight and cis-gendered audience member as he helps them cook a burger from scratch. Alabanza asks the audience for said volunteer in a way which is sincere and free of embarrassment. Their plea is calculated, sober, and calls upon our duty to help them, establishing their dominance within the space early on. Once elected, the slightly contrived script, written to feel natural, doesn’t hold back on pushing the volunteer out of his comfort zone, asking questions such as ‘When was the last time you cried?’, ‘When did you know you were a man?’ and ‘Do you feel more uncomfortable in this room than if you stepped outside?’
The show has been criticised for preaching to the choir, as a large majority of the audience are queer or trans allies. I retort that this factor certainly shouldn’t brand BURGERZ any less artful. Afterall, as the through line of the show states, re-educating the ignorant is not the responsibility of the victim, nor should trans discrimination be accepted as a normality in the first place. Alabanza’s work has the power to change and for that they deserves huge credit.
Reviewed by Nicole Darvill-Batten
Photo: Holly Revell