In April 2016 Travis Alabanza was on Waterloo Bridge in London when somebody threw a burger at them and shouted a transphobic slur. Shaken, but as they reflect, not entirely shocked, they waited for one of the hundred or so witnesses to react. All they received was a fleeting glimpse from a woman who met their eye and hurried on her way.
As a trans person this was not an isolated incident for Travis, nor would any of their trans friends find it unusual to be harassed because of their identity. Despite this, it stayed with them. The violence of it. The threat of something worse to come. But more than anything, it was the silence that affected them the most.
In an attempt to regain some agency over what happened Travis became ‘obsessed’ with burgers. Their texture, their smell, how they land after being flung at somebody. This has been channelled into a smart, funny and painful stage show that had a star run at the Edinburgh Fringe and is currently showing as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. With a mixture of spoken word and subtle slapstick, Burgerz addresses gender, race, sexuality and the violence and isolation they can incur. It also utilises the one thing that brings fear to my heart in the theatre – audience participation. So often this results in fumbling, half-apologetic gags or worse, a wannabe stage star who threatens to derail the entire show with their brilliant one-liners.
Thankfully, all Alabanza wants is somebody to make a burger with. As the pair chop onions over G&Ts, Alabanza guides the dialogue so there’s just enough input from the guest to keep it interesting whilst keeping the show snappy. At times the exchanges can be a little stilted, with Alabanza launching into wooden monologues rather than indulging in a little more off-the-cuff banter that elicits squeals of laughter from the audience. This is when they are at their best, allowing their sharp wit and dark humour to push through.
The fury channelled through this show catches the audience unawares at times; Alabanza disarms us with their Ru Paul-esque cheek and in the next breath reminds us that they’ve had to create a stage show about their attack for anybody to listen. The final moments of the show are some of the tensest I’ve ever witnessed in a theatre. The burger has been made. The audience member returned to his seat. It’s just Alabanza, once again facing a silent crowd. This time, we are in it together.
Burgerz is running as part of Dublin Theatre Festival at Smock Alley Theatre until October 12.