By Bella Spratley, Final Year French and Spanish
Glorious and poignant, Travis Alabanza’s stage show received a well-deserved standing ovation on its first showing in Bristol since their tour started in Berlin on 27 June. Travis includes the audience to a revolutionary extent. Is this the future of theatre?
Burgerz is the most polished I’ve seen Travis yet. Razor-sharp wit, relatable and personal; Burgerz is the show that offers ecstatic laughs to cold traumatic data (i.e. 331 trans lives have been taken since last year) to an oneiric dream-scene on depression and the history of queer bodies. Set in a laughably feminine space, the kitchen, Travis acts on reclaiming safety and identity.
Invited into the dysfunctional kitchen of the performer, an audience member joins Travis for almost the whole show. The goal: make a burger, ‘A classic Burger. The original, the typical Burger’ Travis lists. Burgez is a performance that seeks agency over the burger thrown at Travis for existing as a black non-binary femme in London. Isolated in that moment with nobody’s help, almost three years later now Travis extends a hand asking for help from the audience that they lacked that day. Together we make a Burger. To gain agency over this moment of utter societal failure, obsessive analysis compiling the Burger could be the answer.
The act of construction, imagination and the illusion of choice making the classic Burger evoke gender construction. It’s a laughable metaphor: self-consciously so. Comedy here is inclusive and engages the audience. Travis breaks the stereotypical auteur-lecteur boundary (thanks, Barthes) through consistently referencing us and questioning us. They engage unique conversations with the crowd that seemingly shape the chat-show-esque event. ‘What should it look like?’ we are asked to imagine a Burger, and on switches our collective imagination: the Burger, ‘the emoji Burger.’ ‘The bun, the meat, the lettuce, the bun.’ Travis rattles, highlighting how expectations are drilled into us. Learnt binary and social expectations are put into simple terms. We are the burgers of the 21st century, and some people deny existence outside of ‘bun-meat-lettuce-bun’. That night popular culture and gender theory make a surprising reconciliation in the basement (Western Studio) of the Old Vic. Seated on swivel chairs by a white plastic show-kitchen, after an outfit reveal to a cute dress and heels, sits someone who is smart and witty leading their audience through a dreamlike play that defies boundaries of ‘theatre’.
I first saw Travis perform at Thorny, the notorious Bristol queer performance art night. Travis poured milk on their writhing body and shout-moaned, “oh, Travis, fuck me harder”: perhaps a harder to swallow performance than Burgerz for some. But Travis makes a detailed barefaced revelation on violent sexual prejudice inscribed on black bodies. Rooted in white western colonial fetish. Travis’ performances might seem fun, even ridiculous but they also express important theoretical truths. Travis’ eye for props and provocation continues to excel in Burgerz- a personal favourite is the baps. Here focus is turned to potentially capitalist ideals of trans identity that expensive and dangerous surgery until some form of assimilation is how trans identity must present. Travis’ light-hearted joke makes important socio-political statements.
Stunned to silence at the end of their performance, I joined the many standing members of the auditorium, bewildered. Burgerz is simultaneously reflective, humorous, haunting and a space to escape. I could not recommend it more.
Featured Image: Birstol Old Vic
What are your opinions on interactive audience experiences?