Sunday, 2 July 2017
by Sarah Kosar
A Mother's Modest Proposal
In Sarah Kosar's surreal satire Mumburger, Tiffany (Rosie Wyatt) has just learnt she is, in her words, "a half orphan".
She and her Dad, Hugh (Andrew Frame), are left grieving for their militantly vegan Mum, after her electric car collided with a frozen food lorry, when a surprise delivery from the afterlife drops down from on high into father and daughter's bereavement limbo.
Tiffany, who is waiting to move on with her partner, had been busying herself with the bureaucracy of death and fielding calls from relatives in between watching a video news clip of a Chinese amusement park tragedy gone viral.
Hugh, stunned by his own personal tragedy, has gone into zombie-mode. He clicks "like" on all the messages of sympathy on Facebook and immerses himself in cheesy Hollywood family movies which threaten to cloud any sense of reality.
Currently there appears to be a penchant in new writing for metaphors about the new economic and TV and movie world order, frequently with the play itself verbally announcing its metaphorical status.
This works in plays like Rotterdam where the audience doesn't necessarily have to realize there is a metaphor with fully rounded characters and their reactions, even within the play's bizarre world, seem natural to the audience.
Kosar's play introduces, often in clunky metaphors, any number of issues and current social (and playwriting) trends: the new economic and business world order, a lesbian relationship, the change of culture from family viewing to internet voyeurism, the search for new ideas, the new media employee mentality, environmental crises, a predatory world - and, oh yes, bereavement.
However the characters are simply the tools of elements often introduced like a to-do list to be ticked off. Possible legal action? Tick. Driver's or firm's responsibility? Tick. It's as if somebody has told the writer about how large companies employ drivers and she's just popped it on her list.
One online form, we hear, asks about "unexpected death", although the coroner is never mentioned. OK, it's supposed to be a surreal play but in the end "surreal" can become an excuse for self-indulgence and a feeling of cut and paste rather than a rigorous exploration of the surreal to its logical ends.
Charlotte Henery's set evokes a chic functional modern well-to-do home with gray carpet and blinds, with a hint of glittering silver beyond, and a gray bench. We were also at first intrigued by the preliminary mix of artwork and video designed by Fed.
The hard-working actors do their best with material which starts off with a focussed idea but then loses shape entirely while trying to keep up the illusion of shooting off sharp one-liners.
Having said all this, this really feels like a possible quirky piece for the screen, especially as director Tommo Fowler does not solve major problems of pace and scene resolution which would be better served by film edits.
Also while it's set in the East End of London, the script, on the basis of what we saw, feels as if its rhythms would flow more happily with American accents.
Mumburger starts off inventively with a good idea - satirist Jonathan Swift had a similar notion back in 1729, so not bad company to keep.
Nevertheless in the end we weren't at all convinced by a play that tries to force feed the audience rather than take it on an organic psychological and culinary journey. It's a red/amber light.