Angel at the Arcola Theatre review ****

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Angel

Arcola Theatre, 4th October 2017

I had been hoping to get an opportunity to see Angel after reading a review of the premiere at the Edinburgh Festival last year. I had read of the very sad death of the actor, Filipa Branganca, who had played the role of the eponymous Angel of Kobane, Rehana Ghazali, in that original production. So I am glad it was able to transfer eventually to the Arcola with a new lead in Avital Lvova.

The play is largely set in┬áKobane, a small, sleepy town, in the far north of Syria on the border with Turkey. In mid 2012 the Kurdish YPG took control and declared independence for West Kurdistan. In mid 2014 the town came under siege from ISIS as Syria collapsed and the legend of the Angel of Kobane was born. She was a law student who became a crack sniper. Not much else is known but writer Henry Naylor takes the story as the basis for an hour or so play which examines through her story, the conflict in the region and the role of women in that conflict and in Kurdish society. Angel is part of a quartet of plays (The Collector, Echoes and Borders alongside Angel), named Arabian Nightmares, which Henry Naylor has written about the “war on terror”. They have won multiple Fringe First awards at Edinburgh. It is pretty easy to see why.

We see fragments of Angel’s childhood and meet her parents. Angel wants to be a lawyer but her schooling is disrupted by the Kurdish uprising. Her father, who I understood to have fought in the Kurdish uprising in 1991, teaches her to shoot and, in another important scene, faces down some local hoodlums. The family eventually has to flee but Angel’s Dad stays behind. She decides to return to find him and this is what eventually leads to her joining a group of women fighters to take on ISIS in her home town.

Avital Lvova assumes all the parts, her parents, and the various characters she meets on her journeys. The text is nimble and immediate (and at times surprisingly amusing) allowing Ms Lvova to paint a very vivid picture of these characters and her adventures. The lighting design by Andy Grange in the smaller Arcola space is brilliant. The props are minimal, just a barrel, and the brick wall at the back of the stage. What is most striking however is the sheer physicality of Ms Lvova’s performance: this is what draws you into her story and adds realism to the scenes.

This is a powerful piece of theatre with a performance and staging from director Michael Cabot of real passion. You will be drawn in and you may, like me, learn a little more about the conflict it portrays. I have no doubt it will pop up elsewhere. If it does, take a look. I am keen now to see the sister plays which accompany Angel.