In a jampacked Yard Theatre, a grown-up woman sits sulkingly in a buggy. She is wearing an NHS-prescribed pink helmet and full-length baby bodysuit. She eyeballs the audience, her hands twitching, the occasional joyful smile breaking onto her lips. “Why don’t you quit college, steal a car, and drive us into the sunset?” she suddenly asks her mother, mischievously.
In the third scene of Buggy Baby, we learn that baby Aya can talk. At least, to her mother Nur. And she isn’t one to mince her words. Her ruthless one-liners and cheeky comebacks provide the hilarious comic relief to this show, that calls itself a horror comedy.
The horror aspect lies in the hallucinations of Jaden, the man that Nur lives with in a damp room in London, after they have fled their home country. Jaden chews leaves, which not only make him see his deceased wife in baby Aya, but also two creepy rabbits, who keep coming at him, at first for his leaves, and eventually for Aya and Nur.
Josh Azouz’s disturbing and absurd play switches from the laugh-out-loud funny to the scream-out-loud scary and stomach-knotting disturbing in mere seconds. This rollercoaster of emotions is facilitated through a well-crafted combination of elements in the play, which does director Ned Bennett credit. There is some top-notch acting, especially on the part of Jasmine Jones as baby Aya, whose wonderful childish physicality is in stark contrast with her very adult speech, but also by Hoda Bentaher as Nur and Noof McEwan as Jaden. The actors are aided by an imaginative set, beautiful lighting and a bold sound design.
Once drawn into the play, which admittedly, takes a little time, the audience’s attention is never allowed to drift off. They are kept at the edge of their seat, not only because of the strange developments in the plot, but also due to the occasional jump scare, caused by one of the rabbits suddenly appearing from behind the audience or next to the baby, accompanied by loud music and flashing lights.
But the play also has its raw, emotional moments. Nur’s situation is bleak, and though her exact relationship with Jaden is never defined, her attachment to him is strong, despite his wrongdoings. We are left to wonder about their (refugee) history, and what makes her stay with this man, who baby Aya dubs ‘the resident schizo’.
The play’s climactic end does not explain all these questions, but does leave a trace of hope in this otherwise disturbing and absurd scenario. A highly original and memorable piece of work.
Merel van ‘t Hooft