Mumburger, The Archivist - Review

(c) Photo by Helen Murray

In today's world there are very few things that are taboo to eat. Yes, there are lots of things that are bad for you if eaten in large quantities, but nobody would dream of outlawing salt, red meat, carbohydrates and so on. There is one thing in Western culture that is definitely taboo, and it is precisely this status that gives Sarah Kosar's play such power.

In Kosar's Mumburger, grief and environmental conscientiousness are intertwined with the last will and testament of a vegan mother – for her estranged daughter and husband to regularly eat cooked patties... made from her own body. The notion of feasting on the flesh of one's nearest and dearest is nothing new. In very remote parts of the world, such practices still exist, while in the Christian Eucharist (or Mass as it's known in within Roman Catholic circles) the partaking of 'bread' and 'wine' as a symbol of Christ's body and blood is a sacrament. Even sci-fi author Robert Heinlein – who was never on the backfoot when it came to challenging social mores – in his novel Stranger In A Strange Land had a Martian-raised human discuss the practice off-world of consuming the flesh of the deceased, rather than cremation or burial. For those left behind, there was no greater honour or act of love than to be allowed to do so.

But I digress.

At the centre of this tale lies Tiffany (Rosie Wyatt) and Hugh (Lindon Alexander). Similar in fire and temperament to Amy who she played in Clara Brennan's Spine, Wyatt's Tiffany is full of anger and intense emotion, proactive in dealing with funeral arrangements so that she can distract herself from her immense pain. Hugh, meanwhile, is shell-shocked – numb beyond the capacity for coherent thought or feeling.  

During this period when Hugh and Tiffany are spending time together, awkward conversations abound as Tiffany hints that her father was never around much in the past and that he doesn't know as much about her as she knows about him. While his memory is indeed fuzzy, he does recall examples of Tiffany's 'spoken word' recitals which he likes, which at least shows an interest in her life.

Over time they open up about their respective stories about Andrea and realise that neither totally knew the 'whole' her, but that's ok. The gaps in their respective knowledge are all the more reason why they should stay in contact and keep her memory alive.

When the father and daughter do finally muster the willpower to partake of the 'food' for the first time, it is a very emotional scene, yet sensitively handled. Suffice to say it's not something they can keep down on their first attempt. This 'failure' is as much to blame on not being emotionally prepared for the task as their palette and stomachs unaccustomed to such fayre. Given time as they emotionally work through certain issues, they both end up craving what remains of Andrea, though Tiffany feels cheated out of a 'Last Supper' to finally say goodbye...

Interestingly, when they talk abut 'cheating' on Andrea, it's never a sexual thing, but 'falling off the wagon' with regards to meat consumption. That's why Andrea's request is so extraordinary, and father and daughte­­­­r have such a hard time initially accepting this is what she wants.

With a lesser writer, this play could have ended up as a parody of the last act of Titus Andronicus, but what Kosar has produced is a mature, provocative piece of work that tackles the great conversational taboo of death and how we grieve for –  and most importantly, remember –  our loved ones, who often in the cold light of day are often more contrary than we recall.

© Michael Davis 2016

Mumburger ran at The Archivist, Haggerston from 9th-24th July 2016.


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