“Was the death expected? Yes or no"
The clues may be there but I was still astounded by Sarah Kosar's Mumburger, an arresting new drama that has set up residence in The Archivist's Gallery, a venue tucked away by the canal in Haggerston. Described as a play about "family, grief and red meat", this world premiere of a hyper-local piece of writing (Broadway Market, Rich Mix and Columbia Road flower market all get a mention) from The Archivist's inaugural writer-in-residence certainly makes for an interesting beginning for Kosar's tenure here.
After a tragic car crash, an Anglo-American family is shattered by grief and their differing responses to their loss. Father Hugh retreats into himself, at a loss for what to say or do; daughter Tiffany is conversely a torrent of words and action, a whirlwind of activity as a distraction technique. But 72 hours after the loss of the wife and mother they miss so dearly, an unexpected act of "environmental performance art" throws up a bizarre but searching challenge.
At once humorous and horrific, this spin is a genuine assault on the senses but what's interesting about Kosar's writing is the adventurousness of its spirit. Jagged shards of dreamlike conversation sit alongside evocative projections (strong work from Arnim Friess), conventional storytelling bleeds into spoken word poetry, the dizzying disorientating nature of earth-shattering grief thus conjured in a highly theatrical but still meaningful manner, the desperation with which we cling to ways to remain close to those who've passed a compelling dramatic hook.
And it is matched by a production from Tommo Fowler that is equally daring: Rūta Irbīte's design pairs flowing fabric with foodie functionality; Purvi Trivedi's textured sound design disquiets and disarms as Hugh and Tiffany try to process the situation with which they're faced. Lindon Alexander is quietly powerful as a parent who is realising too late what kind of parent he should have been, almost childish in his competing to have the best stories to share, finding succour if not satisfaction in pot-smoking and the revelation and discovery of secrets about both his wife and daughter.
But it's the excellent Rosie Wyatt who'll you remember, the rawness of her emotion channelled into mourning the mother she's lost, the father she feels she's never had, the connections that elude her. Her delivery of the spoken-word section is just superb, drawing on her considerable experience of solo shows (see Spine; Bunny) to connect fearlessly with her audience and there's an extraordinary physicality to her relationship with her father, so little familial intimacy so that when a climactic hug does come, it is still pleasingly emotionally complex. Mumburger isn't a world for easy resolutions but it certainly leaves an interesting taste in the mouth.
Running time: 85 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 24th July