Written and performed by Travis Alabanza
Hackney Showroom, 7.30pm, until 3rd November
Today I find myself unexpectedly writing a theatre review. I have many things that I should be doing right now, but instead I’m trying to work out how to express in words what the performance I saw recently meant to me because I can’t stop thinking about it.
I went to see Travis Alabanza’s new work Burgerz a few days a go. I laughed hard, very hard, many times but more than once I had to have a quick look around for the nearest exit in case I started audibly sobbing. This show was devastatingly honest and the most emotionally engaging theatre I have ever seen.
I am worried about spoiling it for people so forgive me if I’m low on details: Burgerz is a one person show. It was written by Alabanza and performed by them. Its named after a very public incident of transphobic abuse that happened to Alabanza when someone threw a burger at them in broad daylight. The burger thrower had shouted ‘Tranny’. As Alabanza says: nobody did anything. This show is about gender. Its about differences between cis and trans people and the lives they get to lead. I think this is a show for cis people.
Alabanza tells us about the incident and then goes on to present us with a metaphor about choice and options: hot dog or burger? I wondered for a little while if this simplistic metaphor would be the bulk of the performance. Alabanza is a more interesting artist than that though, and went on to extended and embroider the metaphor until I was surprised at the power it held.
When they start to show the audience how much they have obsessed over this attack and invite us to explore what it means, they do this by involving the audience. They ask for a cis volunteer. The volunteer is given lines to read which make it clear that they being made representative of cis society before Alabanza asks them questions around their gender. I’m finding it difficult to describe how lovingly this confrontation happens, and how effective the resulting role reversal was. As a cis person I felt invested in my unelected spokesperson. I felt responsibility for what they were about to say. I worried that they would be humiliated, that their unintended ignorance or intolerance would reveal itself. I worried that they would offend Alabanza and the other trans people in the room. I had an attention on my cis status that I have never felt in public.
I have never seen someone make so much effort to lay bare the complicated and very simple intricacies of their existence as eloquently as Alabanza. While writing this I have tried to avoid cliches like ‘courageous’, ‘brave’ and ‘groundbreaking’ but actually, I want to shout them all! This show is asking something from cis people. It a call for help, a call for love, a call for understanding and a call to action. I feel like I’m forever indebted to them for making such an effort to get through to me and to every other cis person in their audience. I’m going to repay that debt with the help, love, understanding and action that they are asking for.
I want every cis person who supports trans rights to see this performance. I hope that it will turn us from intellectuals who believe in equality, to passionate and emotional believers in the absolutely undeniable necessity of trans liberation now.
Travis Alabanza has exploded my heart. 🍔🍔🍔
Travis Alabanza is a performer, writer and theatre maker. Their unique mixture of performance, poetry, style, political views and risk taking performances has given them a unique placement both nationally and internationally.
Photo: Travis Alabanza