There is so much about Buggy Baby that is horrifying, from the agonising refugee trail that Nur (Hoda Bentaher) and Jayden (Noof McEwan) endured just to get to London, through the terrible visions and nightmares that chewing leaves brings them, and on to the domestic abuse that casts a long shadow over this fantastic play. But, my, this play really is as funny as it is terrifying, and that’s what makes this one extraordinary production.
Do I recommend this? Hell, yes. Though this will, for sure, go down as a play like nothing you’ve seen before.
Nur and Jayden are struggling to make a new start in London. Nur is throwing herself into college but care for her baby daughter, Aya (played by a fully grown Jasmine Jones!) is an issue. She can’t even afford a cot for her so, instead, whilst Jayden struggles to find any jobs above menial cleaning, he takes responsibility for her care.
But the situation quickly deteriorates.
Jayden’s lack of English sees his job vanish along with what little motivation he has left. He seeks refuge in leaves, chewing more and more to numb himself to the pain. Only what he finds instead are torturous nightmares. Bunnies with axes stalking him, demanding human hair to be sacrificed to them to prevent a sexual assault on the baby, compelling Jayden to walk down an ever-darker path.
And at times this play is BLOODY. DARK. No surprise then that Buggy Baby is described as a horror-comedy and, good lord, it is just that. At moments I was terrified – the stage plunges into utter darkness. A full blackout. Industrial white noise pumps through the speakers. Then the lights suddenly illuminate a man dressed as a rabbit looming over the baby in the buggy, a baseball bat in hand. It is scary stuff. Really. A physical manifestation of Jayden’s nightmares. At times I had to keep my eyes averted and in fact, at least one audience member screamed out in shock.
But then this play is bloody hilarious. And at the centre of that comedy is Jasmine Jones as Baby Aya.
Writer Josh Azouz gives his baby full cognitive abilities. She can talk, think and has a full comprehension of what is going on around her. But only we can understand her. To the adults in the room she is just a baby – constantly filling its nappy, dribbling over her dirty jumpsuit, and either crying for food and juice, or desperate to take her first clumsy steps away from her buggy. But to us she is lucid. Sharp, insightful and acerbic in her humour. But she is also increasingly scared about what is unravelling before her.
It must be said that Jasmine is superb as the baby, almost effortlessly mixing a physical playfulness, mimicking the clumsy coordination and insatiable curiosity of a toddler, with a sharp intellect and biting one liners. She is the comedic heroine this play needs to make it as engaging as it is.
This play, in many ways, could have been an absolute nightmare to dramatise. In fact, it should have been as it’s just so goddamn weird. But in Ned Bennett Buggy Baby found its perfect director. Ned (An Octoroon, Pomona) runs with the craziness, creating an almost hallucinatory vision that builds to a hugely impressive crescendo.
No doubt about it; at points this play feels like one massive trip. Yet, conversely, it remains remarkably grounded, welded to its core themes of alienation and abandonment. This play is traumatic. Don’t expect happy solutions. It is a huge credit to Josh Azouz that he has managed to wield and weave such fundamental truths about contemporary society into a play so damn surreal. Credit to him. And credit to Ned. And credit to the actors and all the creatives. This is one hell of a show.
The Yard Theatre, London, to March 31, 2018.
Tickets from £17 (concessions available).
All production images by the Other Richard.
Writer – Josh Azouz
Director – Ned Bennett
Designer – Max Johns
Lighting Designer – Jess Bernberg
Composer and Sound Designer – Giles Thomas