Buggy Baby review at the Yard, London – ‘bizarre, baffling, brilliant’
Every so often one of those plays comes around whose existence is just completely baffling. Not because it’s no good – far from it – but because it’s so sui generis that it’s difficult to imagine a human mind coming up with it.
Enda Walsh’s Ballyturk is one, Philip Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney is another, entire worlds existing in one isolated room, pocket universes that are only comparable insofar as they’re not like anything else. So it is with Josh Azouz’s wonderfully, darkly bizarre Buggy Baby, as stubborn and wilful in its oddness as a petulant toddler.
Set in the one room where Baby Aya, her mother Nur and their protector Jaden live, the play tells a serious story about emigration and social isolation in the most stylised way possible.
Director Ned Bennett throws things at the production that you never knew you needed: foam machines, giant balloons, levitating wardrobes, oversized nappies.
For every surprising blast of theatricality, there’s a long naturalistic scene. Strobe lights flutter and Nerf guns fire one moment, then the next 10 minutes see Nur giving Baby Aya a bath almost in silence, so that we see some of the reality of raising a child in straitened circumstances.
Max Johns’ design feels as if it has been fed by the disturbing corner of YouTube full of ‘educational’ videos that are meant for toddlers but are, in fact, the stuff of enduring nightmares. There’s so much colour here, and so much noise in Giles Thomas’ sound design; it’s a constant sensory overload, full of looming things that are funny one second and disturbing the next – a baby’s eye view of the world.
Hoda Bentaher who plays Nur and Noof McEwan as Jaden have completely opposite delivery styles. Bentaher steps carefully through her lines like a mother soothing a child, while McEwan takes them like a machine gun, as if Jaden is high on some stimulant – which he is, and which is possibly why two ultra-violent, droog-like bunnies appear every so often to cause chaos.
As Aya, Jasmine Jones has got the mannerisms of an eight-month-old down pat, her uncoordinated hand movements, her instinct to put everything within grasp into her mouth, the tottering way she walks. She’s a brilliant comic performer, eyeing up the audience to find exactly the right moment for a line – the baby talks, by the way, and it has a foul mouth.
More insidious, troubling elements gradually trickle through: that Aya sleeps in her buggy because Nur and Jaden can’t afford a cot. That there are scratches on Aya’s body. That the bunnies may not be imagined.
It’s unclear in whose head this world is existing. Is Jaden, a refugee, suffering from post-traumatic stress? Are these hallucinations, memories? Is the baby imagining it all? Who knows. This is a play that exists at one remove from reality, and is all the more brilliant for doing so.