Angel self-consciously mythologises the story of Rehana, the ‘angel’ of Kobane, a sleepy market town in the North of Syria. The playwright, Henry Naylor, wrote the one-woman monologue after having researched the stories of women in modern Syria. In so doing, he stumbled across the person of Rehana. Rumours abound about her, but one thing is certain: she was a law student who abandoned her studies to train as a sniper, and she was in the middle of the fighting during ISIS’ 2014 siege of Kobani.
Angel is an attempt to construct a theatrical narrative out of these facts. In the process, it considers the contentious politics of gender, of immigration and refugees, of ancestry and land ownership, and of fanatic ideologies with articulate sensitivity. The script is an act of remembrance and bearing witness, resonating with the ancient theatrical tragic mode: as Rehana says, “So. Lest it’s forgotten, here’s our story.” What is so powerful about her story – her and the “brave women” for whom she speaks and stands – is that it is not one of struggle and suffering. Instead, Angel testifies to the fierce bond of companionship and the resilience of the human spirit. Rehana’s last act is an empowering reclamation of her selfhood. She does not ask for the audience’s sympathy.
The script, then, is subtle and nuanced, but simultaneously dynamic and explosive. It is a detailed consideration of topical minefields, told through an intense character study: the external is brought to bear through the internal. Mostly, the production is its match. The sparse thrust stage is well-used from all angles, and Andy Grange’s lighting design texturises the atmosphere created by the script and Avital Lvova’s performance. Lvova is admirably able to match Angel’s demands, deftly switching between tear-filled softness and biting strength in seconds. Once the production becomes more physical, towards its second half, she really hits her stride, and her final lines leave the audience in a chilled silence after the final blackout. This physicality can perhaps come to bear slightly earlier in the performance, so as to launch the audience into that tense state from the play’s offset.
At one point, Rehana comments on the ‘theatre of war’. It is this that Angel so successfully creates. It tackles huge topics with empathetic diligence, and without bias. It leaves its audience to answer its questions and consider its paradoxes. It gives voice to the voicelss. Lvova, as Rehana, and her director Michael Cabot need be commended for their production. Angel is a piece of theatre that is well worth the trip to the Arcola. 4/5
Review written by Alice Carlill.
Angel is currently showing until Saturday 7th October 2017 at the Arcola Theatre. For more information on the production, visit here…