Jasmine Naziha Jones
Royal Court Theatre
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Baghdaddy opens with flashes of light and loud explosions, the sound of war, before revealing a dad and his loved daughter Darlee celebrating her 8th birthday in McDonald’s.
He is telling her about his boyhood in Iraq: picking dates on the street as he went to school, the sun always shining though it didn’t burn you, and at night you would sleep on the roof and look up at the shooting stars. However, this is 1991, that is not the Iraq that she sees on the television.
Darlee, like dramatist Jasmine Naziha Jones, is half-Iraqi and this is a passionate presentation of what it is like when it is your homeland being torn apart and your family who are suffering.
With the help (or is it hindrance) of a Jinn and two personal spirits called Qareens who act as a chorus, Darlee gains growing awareness of her own identity while we see the pain of a man horrified by what is happening and desperate to help his relations from beyond Iraq’s borders. Stocking up with medical supplies to give to his brother, whom he flies out to meet in Amman, the chemist refuses more, thinking him a potential suicide.
Souad Faress, Hayat Kamille and Noof Ousellam play the non-humans and a host of other characters with a madcap confusion that is theatrically exciting. Some of the audience found this so funny that their hysterical laughter drowned out the dialogue, which is already fast-paced and strongly accented, but the cartoon-like humour by contrast serves to underline the trauma at a time when an attempt to telephone gets an automatic response of “the number you have dialled has had the shit bombed out of it”.
A sequence that looks back to dad’s youthful arrival in the UK is more wryly amusing in its presentation of cultural misunderstandings and UK racism. When things move on to 2003 and the coalition invasion, Darlee has an interview for a place at university and there is a shift in style, and in response to their questions there is an outpouring of fact and feeling.
There are moving performances from dramatist Jasmine Naziha Jones as Darlee and Philip Arditti as her Dad, but Jones move to a new level with her answers which become a powerful poem addressed to the audience. Arditti’s Dad follows this with an outcry of pain. The comic cuts presentation of the earlier part of the play may be overplayed, but the writing now soars as we see how Darlee now understands her father’s pain, the pain which he expresses so compellingly.
Baghdaddy doesn’t become diatribe but it does pack a punch that may leave you reeling.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton