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Mumburger review at Old Red Lion Theatre, London – ‘strange, sad, surreal’

Rosie Wyatt in Mumburger at Old Red Lion, London. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli Rosie Wyatt in Mumburger at Old Red Lion, London. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

Given how evocative and transporting smell can be, it’s puzzling that directors don’t make more use of it. In Tommo Fowler’s production of Sarah Kosar’s quirky play Mumburger, the aroma of grilling meat plays a large and vital part.

Tiffany’s mother has just died in a car accident. She and her father are trying to process this loss while also planning her funeral; Tiffany has even put together a special death spreadsheet. Then they discover that her mother, an ardent environmentalist and occasional eater of road kill, has a arranged a ‘digestive memorial’ so that she can nourish her family after her death.

This central idea – the act of consumption as a way of keeping someone with you – is a potent metaphor for mourning, love and the upheaval of grief.

As Tiffany and her dad chomp on burgers made from mum-meat, having overcome their initial disgust, they gradually come to understand one another a little better.

Mess plays a big part in Fowler’s production. Rosie Wyatt’s Tiffany blow-torches grim little meat patties on top of the coffee table, while Charlotte Henery’s clinical set ends up strewn with mustard and splattered with semi-masticated burger. This is at once satisfyingly primal and also rather distracting: the smell, the mess, and the grease end up eclipsing things.

Wyatt and Andrew Frame give grounded and committed performances, but there feels like a gap between what they’re doing and the play’s more heightened material.

Kosar is really good at father-daughter relationships – throughout the play Tiffany’s dad repeatedly quotes from syrupy Steve Martin vehicle Father of the Bride – and the intricacies of parental love. But as sensitively performed and tenderly drawn as their relationship is, it feels like a lot more could have been made of this strange, sad play.

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Verdict
Intriguing, tender and surreal, if slightly muddled, play about dads, daughters and grief
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