Baghdaddy: A fragmented spotlight on Iraqi family trauma in the time of Saddam Hussein

Baghdaddy: London’s first play spotlighting the ongoing trauma of Iraqis
5 min read
15 December, 2022
Iraqis under the regime of Saddam Hussein faced a continuously threatened identity of self, with this generational trauma lingering today. Baghdaddy, performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London, unravels this period with humour and tragedy.

Against the backdrop of Iraq’s wars, namely the Iran/Iraq war of 1980-88, the 1990-91 Gulf War, and the 2003-11 Iraq war, Baghdaddy is a story about Darlee, a half-Iraqi girl growing up in the UK.

Throughout the play, a number of themes are covered such as cultural identity, the impact of universal conflict, trauma, and the father-daughter relationship.

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Directed by Theatre Director Milli Bhatia, Baghdaddy portrays to the audience a dreamlike world in which Darlee (played by Jazmine Naziha Jones) enters the quagmire of her father’s history (played by Philip Arditti).

Alongside Darlee and her father are a group of spiritual clowns – played by Noof Ousellam, Hayat Kamille and Souad Faress – who are in charge of the story. Throughout the play, both Darlee and the father become their puppets where they are made to witness distressing memories such as war, death, and illness.

"When watching Baghdaddy, it appears that the overall aim is to enlighten the audience to a very personal behind-closed-doors outlook on how Iraqis still suffer the traumatic events that have taken place in Iraq, but still don’t hear about 19 years later"

At the beginning of the play, the focus is the first Gulf War which broke out in 1991. The play then proceeds with the American-led Operation Desert Storm and the dismissal of the Iraqi army.

While all these events are taking place, Darlee and her father are celebrating her birthday in McDonald’s, a symbol of American colonialism – which, “as much as Saddam’s murderous regime, is the big bad daddy of the play.”

Here, Jasmine Naziha Jones, also the playwriter of Baghdaddy, has a point to make to the audience. The point is that whilst much attention has been paid to Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime, people have, throughout the years, turned a blind eye to the brutality of Western invasions in the country.

By the end of the play, Darlee vocalises this anger when she is at a university interview. Frustrated by constantly being asked “What do you think of Saddam Hussein?” for almost all her life, Darlee asks her interviewees why no one has asked what she thinks of the American sanctions that killed thousands of Iraqis and impacted children, not only being born with deformities but also dying, as a result of depleted uranium shells contaminating Iraq.

Baghdaddy: London’s first play spotlighting the ongoing trauma of Iraqis
Baghdaddy explores Iraqi identity during a time of great social upheaval 

This point of the play is interesting because we see a significant transformation of Darlee’s character. In the beginning of the play, we see a young girl frustrated and confused by her father’s preoccupation with events taking place in his homeland.

Most likely due to her young age, the frustration and confusion Darlee feels essentially lead to feelings of neglect from her father.

Here, the audience are left with two questions: Is the father being neglectful (constantly glued to the television observing events in Iraq) or dutiful (for example, travelling to Jordan and Syria to raise money for his family due to return to Iraq being too dangerous)?

As Darlee gets older, it is clear that she leans more towards the latter belief. We see a woman who cannot help but sympathise with her father’s trauma and sacrifices; whether that may be leaving his homeland to create a safe home for his family, travelling to absurd lengths to acquire medication for his ill brother, struggling with the complexities of language, and racial abuse.

Just like Darlee, we see that the father also embarks on a journey throughout the play.

"Jasmine hopes that the audience will see the far-reaching impact of war and colonialism on modern British life"

When watching Baghdaddy, it appears that the overall aim is to enlighten the audience to a very personal behind-closed-doors outlook on how Iraqis still suffer the traumatic events that have taken place in Iraq but still don’t hear about 19 years later.

Baghdaddy: London’s first play spotlighting the ongoing trauma of Iraqis
Employing both humour and tragedy, Baghdaddy is a play detailing the lingering trauma of the Iraqi people post-Saddam

In an exclusive interview with Jasmine Naziha Jones, the playwriter and actor tells The New Arab: “I hope that people will witness something authentic and genuine on a narrative that people believe they are very well informed about.

"I also hope the play goes out of the auditorium and to the wider world. Finally, I hope that this play will invite conversations.”

Simply put, Jasmine hopes that the audience will see the far-reaching impact of war and colonialism on modern British life.

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Interestingly, although the play’s content is harsh and sad, it welcomes entertainment, predominantly by incorporating humour, so I cannot help question why such a genre is used when the stories are so tragic?

“The use of humour is effective and really powerful," Philip Arditti tells The New Arab. "Looking at tragedy through clowning and through playful theatricality isn’t a new idea – it is something that is explored occasionally.

"Its use is an absurdity to tragedy, and I guess people sometimes need comedy to deal with such huge emotions, such horrible devastation, how better to deal with emotions, how better to tackle it,” Philip adds.

“It often helps us to understand the scale better in a way. Sometimes, when you put on a play that is consistently sad, about sadness and tragedy, it is perhaps more difficult to comprehend and digest it."

Zainab Mehdi is a Researcher and Freelance Journalist specialising in governance, development, and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Follow her on Twitter: @zaiamehdi