The Archivist’s Gallery, London – until 24 July 2016
Once upon a time, I remember hearing an anthropological myth about a cannibal tribe which ate its dead relatives instead of burying them. And it makes sense doesn’t it? I mean, if you really love somebody, why would you put them in the ground, or burn them to ashes? Much better to eat them, to make them part of you, to let them nourish you, to be together again. Whether this story is true or not, a taste of this kind of thinking permeates Sarah Kosar’s new play, Mumburger, which is an imaginatively scripted and emotionally moving story about grief and family love.
When Andrea, mother of 25-year-old Tiffany and wife of Hugh, gets killed in an accident (her small car crushed by a Birdseye lorry on the M25), the rest of the family have to all the usual arrangements: register her death, instruct the undertaker, invite friends and relatives, organise a ceremony. But the problem is that Hugh and Tiffany react in different ways to the shock of sudden loss — he is paralysed and frozen while she is galvanised into frenetic activity. The real test of their relationship, however, comes when — true to the title of this surreal story — a large bag of burgers appears on their doorstep.
As the note attached to the bag explains, this is Mum’s gift of her own dead body, lovingly prepared as easy-to-cook burgers. The twist is that Andrea was a militant vegan all her life, so her posthumous request that her husband and daughter consume her remains is a double transgression: breaking the taboo about cannibalism and betraying everything she stood for. Or is it? With typically imaginative flair, Kosar takes this central idea of a Digestive memorial and runs with it for most of the 90-minute play, making several suggestive links to wider metaphors. Tiffany, for example, went to a Roman Catholic school so the theology of Holy Communion (literal absorption of the body and blood of Jesus Christ) is familiar to her.
But the main dynamic of this two-hander is the relationship between parent and child, which is developed through a couple of the classic stages of grief in a well observed and convincing way. At every point, the surreal quality of the events is grounded in our common humanity. Added to this, Kosar uses a theatre form which is entertaining and suits this venue, the cramped back room of a bookstore by the canal in East London’s Haggeston, perfectly. Tiffany recites spoken word poetry, and Tommo Fowler’s sympathetic production, which strikes a good balance between heightened feelings and emotional restraint, features video and music.
What’s most impressive about Kosar is not only her insights into how families handle grief, but the discipline, economy and brightness of her writing. I like the way that this is a memory play, in which the character each have different views about the dear departed, and the resonances of its central theme: during the performance I kept thinking of The Smiths’s “Meat Is Murder”. Mumburger is both moving and entertaining, with good performances by Lindon Alexander as the traumatised Hugh, forever picking at a symbolic scab on his skull, and Rosie Wyatt as the energetic Tiffany. Together they make a complex, stimulating and thoroughly delightful event!
© Aleks Sierz
• Mumburger is at .
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