Review: Angel by Henry Naylor

Henry Naylor’s tale of a pacifist Kurdish teen girl turned hardened sniper is confrontational Fringe theatre at its most gripping.

Angel, the third instalment of Henry Naylor’s ‘Arabian Nightmares’, was the critical hit of last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, and follows the playwright’s Echoes, which appeared at Holden Street Theatres for Adelaide Fringe last year. Rehana (Angel) is a near-mythical figure who during the siege of Kobane (a Syrian town near the Turkish border) is believed to have killed 100 ISIS fighters while protecting the area for the Kurdish YPG. As the accompanying notes that you receive when you enter the theatre point out, a lot of stories about her are unverifiable but what is known is that she was a law student who abandoned her studies to become a sniper.

Avital Lvova plays Rehana (Angel) in this one-woman performance directed by Michael Cabot. She appears on a sparse stage in a green tank top and army pants, like a Syrian Sarah Connor. But for the first part of the play she is no soldier. She’s a pacifist wannabe law student who loves western pop culture and her father, who imparts some harsh and important reality lessons to his daughter. He teaches her how to fire guns but she wants to hit the books and gently teases her father as they shoot cans. He is a farmer who takes great care of their humble patch that has been in the family for generations while Rehana wants to take care of people in the court of law. But her father loves nature over humans, as he bluntly says of people, it is a case of “are you prey or are you predator?” To him humans are no more than animals.

A few years later and ISIS (Daesh) are coming. Rehana and her mother try to flee to Europe while her father stays. “They’ll look after us in Europe,” her mother says. But Rehana returns to her homeland to try and find her father and ends up fighting with an all-female group and becomes the angel of death for the Daesh who encounter her.

Lvova is powerful as Rehana in a gruelling and physical role that sees her change from wide-eyed optimist to take-no-prisoners killer. Lvova stumbles over a few lines, and doesn’t quite nail the climax, but she storms around the stage, using only a wine barrel as a prop, with captivating intensity while effectively telling the tale and delivering occasional lines of humour.

Angel is not a rose-coloured look at humanity. It is a brutal assessment of the lengths sometimes needed to combat evil, where even the most well-intentioned pacifist must abandon their humanity to fight and protect for what’s right. It’s powerful stuff.

Angel by Henry Naylor continues at Holden Street Theatres until Sunday, March 19

This review was conducted the 7:45pm, February 15 performance of Angel by Henry Naylor

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