Structured around a surprisingly effective central metaphor, Sarah Kosar’s offbeat Mumburger is confident and compelling. With a little editing, and levelling of the actors occasionally incongruous performance styles, this zany fringe offering would ‘meat’ all of my expectations. (Shuddering at my own writing x a gazillion).
The production values are satisfying in Mumburger, Sarah Kosar’s surrealist comedy which premiered at The Archivist’s Gallery last year and is now approaching the end of a four-week run at the Old Red Lion. There’s blowtorches, impressive projection design and Uber Eats deliveries falling from the ceiling. Charlotte Henery’s set makes excellent use of the awkwardly-shaped playing space, with a clinical aesthetic that allows for subsequent disheveling (using condiments, obvs). Robbie Butler’s clever lighting design adds warmth – and the opposite – to appropriate moments without things ever seeming laboured or overly stylised.
The play’s premise – a look at the ill-matched grieving processes of an ill-matched father and daughter – is routine enough. That is: until the bag of meat arrives. The pair decide it’s a ‘digestive memorial’ sent from the grave, a much-welcomed opportunity for the family to ‘eat’ their deceased family member. A revelation that raises as many eyebrows in practice as on paper, but this central metaphor is actually surprisingly fruitful, retaining interest and momentum. Brief references to Tiffany’s Catholic School upbringing perhaps explain why the duo really do believe the presence of their mother/wife in this modern Eucharist isn’t just symbolic but real. The bag of (genuine, eventually cooked in front of us) meat morbidly assumes ‘she/her’ pronouns to much hilarity and bemusement. Nevertheless, Kosar’s exploration of nuances and upheavals of grief is confident and compelling.
If absurdist comedies were supermarkets though, this would definitely be a ‘Waitrose’ – and not just because of the ‘vegan cheese’ references. The show is somewhat self-aware about how middle-class the content of the jokes are (‘I know you use beef jerky as your bookmark in The Da Vinci Code’), but the writing and direction combo don’t quite give me the confidence that everyone involved is ‘in on the joke’ enough for me to not occasionally cringe. It’d be higher up on my agenda as the show’s director, anyway, just to avoid any confusion and ensure the play is situated on the right side of the irony.
A writing point – so beyond the control of this particular production, I know – but there’s also times when a third (even minor) character, suddenly entering the space and disrupting the flow, would have been very welcomed. Perhaps the food delivery guy or a similar ‘constant’, someone to just provide a quick, fresh perspective and (hilariously, in its own right) put the absurdity of everything else into context. Mumburger could alternatively perhaps just benefit from shaving about 10 minutes off its running-time. For me at least, there was just one too many scenes of the same two characters in conversation at the moment. The ‘spoken-word’ sections, although undermined and ridiculed by the characters themselves towards the end, didn’t particularly enhance my experience for example – I occasionally found my mind wandering.
Rosie Wyatt and Andrew Frame’s chemistry is convincing and well-pitched – all I’d perhaps critique is that the actors have slightly incongruous performance styles which should have been identified and levelled out during rehearsals. On the most simple level, I just found Wyatt to be performing for a larger space than she was perhaps in. Some of it you can, of course, attribute to a conscious decision about Tiffany’s character (she’s loud, gushy and unrestrained after all). But even in the quieter and more tender moments, Wyatt was projecting (for example) just that little bit too much compared to her counterpart – to a somewhat jarring and non-naturalistic effect (as if the characters were never quite in the same room, when we do – naturally – tend to talk at the same volume as each other).
All-in-all though, this is bold and genuinely novel fringe writing – elevated by stylish and slick production values, two compelling performances and the sweet smell of sizzling meat.