Angel at Arcola Theatre
“The rapist with his nine-year-old sex slave? Death. The homesick boy who made a terrible mistake? Death.”
Angel, the young girl from Kobane, Syria, doles out sentences to members of Daesh with the authority of her perfectly aimed rifle. In her war-riddled country, it doesn’t matter if someone calls themselves a pacifist, because the choice is between killing and being killed. Using the sniper skills her father taught her, she protects the town’s citizens while racking up her tally of death.
In this pared-back one-woman show, the focus is on Henry Naylor’s engaging script and Avital Lvova’s dedicated, multi-character performance. Stark lighting punctuates scenes, flips us back and forward in time and, in other moments, makes black pits of Lvova’s eye sockets. The Arcola’s downstairs Studio 2 – a snug space with exposed brick and low ceiling – gives the play no place to hide.
Naylor has had huge success as a comedy writer, garnering awards for shows such as Alistair McGowan’s Big Impression and Spitting Image. Angel seems an odd departure from that style of writing, yet Naylor’s sense of humour is still present here. Copious throwback references to mentions of Beyonce and Mariah Carey jostle up against descriptions of the fall of Mosul or overcrowded refugee camps. There are some lines to cherish: the innocent dead referred to as, “trees falling in an unreported forest” for one. It’s a lean piece of storytelling that demands attention for the full one-hour running time.
Lvova’s Angel is a defiant, big-hearted hero who’s easy to like, while her other portrayals, such as that of the father, are pleasingly realistic without seeming laboured. Her performance is increasingly physical, requiring high stamina and control. On this particular night, she garners a rapturous standing ovation.
It’s gratifying to learn that Angel is based on a real woman: Rehana, a young Kurdish fighter who can be seen in photos online, smiling and giving the peace sign. While the devastation of the Middle Eastern landscape endures, real stories from real people must be heard. Theatre that can lay bare that truth is surely of the highest importance. Naylor’s Angel offers this in a small sense by proxy, but its purpose in the main is to bring the people of Syria to the forefront of our minds, to remind us that it’s only distance and circumstance that separate us and to ignite our empathy, our compassion and our rage.
Photo: Steve Ullathorne
Angel is at Arcola Theatre from 11th September until 5th October 2017. For further information or to book visit the Arcola Theatre website here.