Review by Carly Fisher
Whether or not there was a woman named Rehana, who came from the small town of Kobane in North Syria, may be up for negotiation - was she a hero or a myth by which to teach with? Either way, British playwright Henry Naylor has taken the story and delivered one of the best one woman shows I have ever seen.
Angel follows Rehana’s journey from farm girl to aspiring lawyer to sniper, a transition necessitated by the rise of ISIS in her region. Where we once hear of her playing in the trees on her family’s property, we then see her wanting to go to school but being kept back for shooting lessons with her father, and yet, these lessons still remain innocent enough and as an audience, we remain, alongside Rehana, hopeful. This escalates as she gets older and we see that though her father sounds progressive and like a freedom fighter, he is also aware. These lessons prove more necessary than Rehana could have ever anticipated.
Despite being a one woman show, supplementary characters are well defined and established, particularly that of Rehana’s father. We get such a strong sense of their relationship, their bond. We also get an almost visceral sense of the farm, particularly of the ancestral trees that dominate the land. The clarity and power of these relationships are a tribute both to Naylor’s excellent and highly descriptive writing, and the beautiful execution of it before us.
In fact, having seen over 30 performances this week, this comment is not one that I say lightly, but Yasemin Ozdemir is without question my pick of the fringe. She is superb and in all the shows I saw, each filled with some of the world’s best independent artists, no one came close to Ozdemir’s talent and this stellar performance. She is one to watch!
The set is cleverly minimal - two halves of a small brick wall and a couple wooden boxes are all that we have to build this world, and its many settings, from. Though sparse, the set is perfect and controlled expertly by Ozdemir who is forced not to rely on the bells and whistles of production design, but almost solely on the story itself. Her costume again is traditional - cargo pants and a tank with hair in a neat braid - and yet is perfectly layered in its meaning and neat in its presentation.
The show is an urgent and impactful reminder of the horrors of war, particularly for those trapped in areas in danger, specifically for women. As an audience, unfortunately much like as citizens of the world, all we do is watch helplessly as this young, bright and inspired character has her innocence shattered, her future decimated and her independence harshly stolen. We know from world news and recent history how damaging ISIS proved and the horrors that Syria and its people were made to endure and so to focus in on a single story in this way is a stroke of genius on Naylor’s part. He assumes we do not need too much context because of the knowledge we walk into the theatre with and he is right. In doing this, he achieves a flow in this piece that is seldom seen in pieces about conflict and war - there is a pace that almost makes you think of it as a relatable story. You then sit there counting your lucky stars that it is not.
In just an hour there is a lot to cover so the play moves quickly and efficiently but holds perfectly for Naylor’s signature comedy throughout. Again, Ozdemir reminds us of her talent by executing the pace, the humour and the sincerity of the story with precision.
As Ozdemir delivers her final line (in a perfectly accomplished accent I must add), I sat there torn between wanting to cry and wanting to scream - this piece is the desperate reminder we all need to hear as to cost of war. Whatever the emotion, I was compelled to jump to my feet for a standing ovation before the fade to black was complete.
I cannot recommend this play highly enough. A vital message for all to hear and an absolute masterclass for all Artists.
This is a piece I will be thinking about long after I leave Edinburgh, of that I am sure.