Jessica Hagan’s play Brenda’s Got a Baby is a delightfully wacky, look behind the curtain of womanhood, motherhood and relationships.
On her 29th birthday Ama (Anita-Joy Uwajeh), gets the rude awakening that her career and eight-year-long relationship isn’t enough to keep her demons at bay. Her boyfriend Dami (Jordan Duvigneau) breaks up with her after falling for another woman. Whilst her newly married younger sister Jade (Jahmila Heath) and Mother (Michelle Asante) pressure her about marriage and motherhood.
Brenda’s Got a Baby begins with Ama staunchly unbothered by the call of motherhood. At 29, those around her are falling head-first into pregnancy and marriage as their “biological clocks” begin to tick. Brenda, a character we never see, is revealed to be a girl from Ama’s class who got pregnant at 16. When Ama bumps into her on the street years later holding her 5th baby we begin to see how Ama differs from the women around her. While Brenda slights Ama for not having the purpose she finds in her children, Ama mentions “the rules“ that were gospel when they were younger – go to school, graduate, don’t get pregnant, go to university, get a job and so on. Ama has done all of this. She has a well-paying job in London, has just bought her first flat and expects her boyfriend to propose very soon, prompting the start of her story as a wife and mother. To Ama, despite being behind her 24-year-old sister, she has done everything right.
When Dami breaks up with her, Ama’s carefully laid plans begin to unravel. Catastrophically. By the end of the first act, Ama has decided that she will have a baby by her 30th birthday in a year’s time. As soon as she lays down this gauntlet for herself, a countdown clock begins ticking down from 365 days above her head, a brilliant physical manifestation of Ama’s stress and a highlight with the audience.
The rest of the play is set over the next 365 days cataloguing all of Ama’s desperate attempts to get pregnant and finally be seen as important in her community. Much of what happens in Act 2 is best left as a surprise, but as we watch Ama’s mental health deteriorate I couldn’t help but sympathise with the boisterous and confident woman who has been completely lost to societal pressures and a phantom “ticking clock”.
More broadly, Brenda’s Got a Baby is incredibly funny. Throughout the first act, we are endeared to Ama as she
keeps a brave face while things go wrong around her. A welcome levity also comes in the form of ‘Skippy‘ (Edward Kagutuzi), Jade’s husband. He is loving and patient with his wife and her family, whilst being hilariously sincere and earnest. Michelle Asante as Jade and Ama’s mother is another highlight. Jade is that strict and, as Ama puts it “overbearing” black mother that we all know, with disarming quips that put the boisterous sisters back in their place. However, she also delivers a heart-wrenching monologue that brings together beautifully what it means to be a mother and to watch your children grow up.
Brenda’s Got a Baby does, however, have a few over-arching issues with tone. The one-liners, jokes and comedic situations sometimes undermine the serious issues that the play is trying to discuss. For instance, a short discussion on the shortcomings of IVF for black women is given not nearly enough time given the main character’s year-long struggle with it. There are facts and statistics about IVF shared in conversation that are meant to shock and appall, yet seem largely out of place coming from a character who is so unserious most of the time. Brenda’s Got a Baby could have benefitted from a closer analysis of the processes of IVF and its mental and financial impacts, depicted as more of a long-standing issue that follows Ama throughout the second act, just as it so brilliantly does with the issues of motherhood and marriage.
Overall, Brenda’s Got A Baby is a passionate and rewarding insight into what it is to be a woman in the 21st century. Highlighting the confusing and conflicting lessons about motherhood women are taught growing up. Despite Ama becoming unreachable by the end of the play, the story teaches so much about supporting your fellow woman despite her often being framed as the enemy. Playwright Jessica Hagan does an excellent job of creating ordinary women, people you would see day to day, and putting them in extraordinary positions, creating an entertaining, and thought-provoking piece of art.
Brenda’s Got a Baby runs at the New Diorama Theatre until 2nd December | Find out more and buy tickets here.