A creepy comedy about a talking baby gets a full-throttle production from Ned Bennett
The Yard’s star continues to rise exponentially: where once upon a time a night at Hackney Wick’s home of the avant-garde involved watching some mad people screaming in the rubble to an audience of about 12 people, these days it’s a Arts Council-funded theatre, with a bustling crowd of terrifyingly chic young Wickites and actual seats. Plus some names you may have actually heard of.
‘Buggy Baby’, the Yard’s first big show of 2018, is directed by Ned Bennett, best known as the man who made the Orange Tree Theatre cool again via his cult hits ‘Pomona’ and ‘An Octoroon’, National Theatre transfers both.
I suspect that’s not going to happen with Josh Azouz’s ‘Buggy Baby’, in which Bennett’s full-bore, acid-bright production occasionally threatens to strangle a dark comedy about a pair of refugees and their surprisingly articulate baby.
Nur (Hoda Bentaher) and Jaden (Noof McEwan) are a couple, with a young baby, Aya (Jasmin Jones). The impression is of a relationship of convenience, forged by their flight from an unspecified country (or countries) rather than some grand romance. But whatever the case, there’s a certain edginess between them: Nur goes to college and tries to better herself; he can’t speak English and stays at home, notionally looking after Aya, but in reality gobbling prodigious amounts of some sort of intoxicating herb (perhaps khat).
Nur seems afraid of Aya; or she does until Aya suddenly starts speaking to her in articulate, Estuary-accented English (Jones’s adult-being-a-baby mannerisms are really quite impressive).
‘Buggy Baby’ is an undoubtedly peculiar play, something further complicated by the difficulty in separating it from Bennett’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production, in which demonic rabbits appear after blackouts accompanied by howling gales of noise, and the audience is variously shot at, vacuumed, drenched in foam, and exposed to Bowie’s semi-lamentable ’80s folly ‘Dance Magic Dance’.
What I think it is, at core, is a surreal but not uncaring comedy about the isolation and alienation of becoming a refugee, shut off and going slightly mad. Certainly, that’s what the naturalistic performances of the three core cast members suggest, with only McEwan hamming it up as Jaden heads off the rails.
But while it would be daft to try and pretend that a play about a talking baby calls for a sober production, there is the definite feeling that Bennett and creative team has gone a bit OTT and created an enjoyably ridiculous installation that’s not especially sympathetic to Azouz’s text. Still, it’s undeniably bloody stimulating.