Even if Jasmine Naziha Jones’ Baghdaddy now playing at the Royal Court ends up a touch uneven, it is still thrillingly adventurous theatre
“The number you have dialled has had the shit bombed out of it”
You can see why some might consider a show like this challenging but I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I was left respecting the hell out of first-time writer Jasmine Naziha Jones for being so uncompromising in her vision. And let’s be real, who are any of us to complain that the experience of something as jaggedly painful and personal as generational trauma through second-generation immigrant eyes doesn’t fit neatly into conventional narrative.
Thus Naziha Jones’ Baghdaddy, directed downstairs at the Royal Court by Milli Bhatia, is daring and demanding and delicious. Told through the 8-year-old eyes of British-Iraqi Darlee, we see the impact of war in Iraq in 1991 refracted through her interpretation of how it has affected her father. But as she grows up and conflict erupts again, her understanding shifts, matures, deepens into the acknowledgement of how much he went through that she didn’t, or couldn’t, appreciate.
The first act is constructed as a kaleidoscope of vignettes, controlled by three spirit-like figures in amazing suits (Souad Faress, Hayat Kamille and Noof Ousellam, costumes part of Moi Tran’s striking design choices). The mood is playful and absurdist as we slide through a comedy of manners, newly arrived Dad trying to get on with louring clubgoers, uptight landladies and newsagents who may or may not be 007. It is undoubtedly ‘a lot’ but it is a powerful lesson in perspective – not simply ‘this is what war is like’ but ‘this is how war hits on a personal level when you’re 3,000 miles from home’.
As age brings experience and greater understanding, so the tone darkens. And as fury increases, so the mode simplifies as the play finishes on two monologues, blistering and biting as Naziha Jones’ Darlee and Philip Arditti as Dad round off two insightful and impactful performances. The journey of their father-daughter relationship is never less than complicated, so why wouldn’t the telling of it being anything less than complex – there’s something gorgeous though in how it resolves here.