Review: Burgerz (Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh)

Travis Alabanza’s piece opens in Edinburgh after first premiering in 2018

© Holly Revell

If you create an entire play around the act of cooking a burger on stage, and then – on press night – the electricity fails and you can't actually cook the burger, then it's fair to say you are facing disaster.

But the irony of the long sequence of mishaps that befell the first night of Burgerz is that they enabled the personality and the courage of its protagonist and author Travis Alabanza to emerge more strongly and dazzlingly than if everything had gone to plan.

The starting point for the play is that a burger and the insult "tranny" were simultaneously hurled at Travis in April 2016 in broad daylight. One hundred people saw the incident and did nothing. In order to reclaim agency, to feel in control, Alabanza decided to make "the most typical burger you can see. The emoji. The archetype." While doing this, they will explain how crazy it is to put people into boxes, to insist on dualistic stereotypes, to see the world in a binary state.

On the catastrophe-strewn press night, on Soutra Gilmour's kitchen of a set, with its piles of pink-ribboned cardboard boxes, Alabanza sought a volunteer for this task and landed on Fraser, possibly the sweetest man ever to work in a burger bar and to find himself on stage helping a trans activist fail to cook a burger.

They made a gloriously mismatched double act, with Fraser so ever-helpful, I did wonder if he was a plant and Alabanza pursuing a blizzard of point-scoring adlibs to help make their points. "White man gets applauded for coming up on stage," they noted, though the later accusation that Fraser represented 2,000 years of patriarchy was slightly undercut by the fact that this was a man who admitted to crying when he broke up with his girlfriend.

But maybe that was part of the point too, since it is all too easy to feel sympathy with Fraser; Alabanza's entire argument is that those who don't fit into any boxes deserve just the same amounts of understanding and empathy. "Bad things happen and we've got to go on stage to be believed," they point out. It's a good piece, a passionate plea, full of feeling.

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