Baghdad, Baby!

The Forge at The Court Theatre, Christchurch

15/08/2008 - 13/09/2008

Production Details

The Middle East gets a taste of Kiwi in a biting comedy about politics, freedom, love, sex and other things that Lonely Planet doesn’t recommend. Welcome to BAGHDAD, BABY! at The Forge from August 15 – September 13.

Dean Parker‘s play was among the first pieces of theatre to address the situation in Iraq and was nominated for Best Play at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards 2005. Set in the Baghdad Café, one of the few remaining businesses in the war-torn city, Parker throws together a collection of characters from both sides of the political fence and stirs things up with an unlikely catalyst: a lad from Napier on his OE.

Tom Trevella is Harry Zinc, a former poet and ex-pat Kiwi who profits from the "business of reconstruction". Claire Dougan plays embittered CNN journalist Martha McCarthy. Jonathan Martin plays Kilroy, a US soldier who presents the argument for occupation as he delivers payments to the families of the injured or killed. Cassie Baker and David McKenzie play Shirin (owner of the café) and Amir (a part-time Mujahideen); locals who deliver bemused commentary on the foreigners and their own situation. Nicolas Kyle rounds off the cast as Kyle, a typical Kiwi backpacker in a decidedly atypical tourist destination.

Director Jon Pheloung (who also directed 2007’s BABYLON HEIGHTS) describes BAGHDAD, BABY! as "a comedy of manners which the reality of Iraq occasionally -and violently – interrupts". All six characters show themselves to be fallible and surprising as they collide. The play, while politically savvy, is driven by the human needs the characters share.

To create the media-saturated world the play satirises, Julian Southgate‘s set features a dozen screens which display footage of Baghdad provided by Television New Zealand. Pheloung is excited that "a reality where even the people in the middle of a war zone feel like spectators" is able to be fully realised on The Forge’s stage.

Critics have praised Parker’s uniquely Kiwi blend of humour, politics, broken hearts and outrage. For a sharp, witty, up-to-the-minute play that gets you thinking, get to The Forge and see BAGHDAD, BABY!

”Baghdad, Baby!’ is a must-see.’ – Harry Ricketts, The Listener

‘It’s topical, it’s intelligent and it’ll get you thinking….’ – Lynn Freeman, Capital Times

‘Dean Parker’s ingenious take on occupied Iraq, post Saddam but pre-‘liberation’, is in turn insightful, humorous, sardonic, heart-warming, heart-rending and spine chilling’. … – John Smythe, NBR


Venue:  The Forge at The Court
Show dates:  August 15 – September 13.      Performances: Monday – Saturday, 8pm
Tickets:  $30 adults; $25 seniors/groups 10+; $20 students
Bookings:  Phone 963 0870 or online

Featuring:  Cassie Baker, Claire Dougan, Nicolas Kyle, Jonathan Martin, David McKenzie and Tom Trevella

Pure gold

Review by Lindsay Clark 17th Aug 2008

Spontaneous applause is rare enough in contemporary theatre for it to be an important measure of successful engagement. At the opening performance of Dean Parker’ shrewd satire, it sprang from an enthusiastic recognition of our staunch, if naïve, Kiwi ways, reflected in the doings of a backpacker from Napier, and the Baghdad cafe where his OE is considerably extended.

It is then, a play full of very funny contrasts, cultural mismatches and plenty of digs at the American military presence. It is cheering to see the dinkum Kiwi sidestepping the messy complications, albeit through ignorance. In real life this would probably be irritating, but on stage it is pure gold. On this basis, the play works very well, a refreshing extension of the territory usually covered by New Zealand writing for stage.

Certainly it has real momentum, generated from the cross currents of six emphatic characters, each contributing a human perspective on the mayhem of a city at war. Thus we brush with ideas about liberators and conquerors, deconstruction and reconstruction, poetry, creative writing and journalism. We are in the realm of nightmares where "everything turns into its opposite".  The mix results in a constant stream of rich ironies which Jon Pheloung’s direction exploits with consistent success.

The result is a play which feels more like light comedy than a social or political comment, shock registering more as surprise and awe well out of it.It is for the strong, articulate characters that the play will be remembered.

Relishing a new direction for her acting, Clare Dougan gives us a tough, worldly journalist with a vulnerable soul beneath the shell, while Tom Trevella, as her erstwhile lover is entirely convincing as a laconic "reconstructionist" who used to be a poet before he went "through life". Jonathan Martin, as Kilroy, the fervently godly lieutenant, is fired up in fine style.

Both Cassie Baker as Shirin, bar girl at the cafe and David McKenzie as Amir, philosopher with communication difficulties add ‘local’ colour, but it is Nicolas Kyle, the Kiwi lad abroad, whose buoyant charm and sunny she’ll-be right-ist attitude provides the contrast and real focus of the play.

It is well placed to extend the run of interesting work at The Forge. 


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