Angel by Henry Naylor follows hot on the heels of his highly acclaimed second play, Echoes, which won a Fringe First in 2015, transferred off Broadway and won seven major international Fringe Awards. Angel is the final chapter in his Middle-Eastern trilogy of plays.
Angel is inspired by the story of a modern legend: a female sniper – the Angel of Kobanî – who held ISIS in check for over a year in war-torn Syria. A young female law student, she joined the resistance when the town of Kobanî was besieged and quickly discovered that she had a talent for killing. It is alleged that she shot and killed 100 extremists – making her particularly feared by ISIS, as its adherents believe that if they are killed by a woman they cannot enter Paradise.
Recent drama school graduate, Filipa Bragança returns in the role of Angel, having won high praise last year for her portrayal of Samira in Echoes, Naylor’s 2015 Fringe play. It’s no mean feat carrying off an hour-long monologue, but Bragança brings light and shade to the narrative and transports the audience to war-torn Syria and its atrocities using only Naylor’s words. There’s no clever set or props to distract; just clear, simple dialogue between the protagonist and the audience in a dark studio space.
In juxtaposition to the horror of the situation, Naylor injects humour into the play with references to Beyoncé, such as when Angel convinces her father to sing ‘All the Single Ladies’ in return for her singing the liberation song. Elsewhere, reference is made to Kobanî (where they live), being a border town a ‘bit like Berwick-upon-Tweed’, giving it some context for the audience.
We follow Angel’s life from her simple childhood growing up on a farm, with ambitions of becoming a lawyer like William Shatner, whilst her father would rather she learn aspects of agricultural life such as how to tie knots and how to shoot livestock. Eventually, however, her father’s teachings become her saving grace as a female soldier in the theatre of war.
Bragança changes between the characters of Angel (the main protagonist she plays), her father, and Waheed, her childhood rival and now ISIS officer, with a mere lowering of her voice. It works simply but effectively. Bragança may only be at the start of her career but is a rising star and gives a strong performance.
Naylor’s script is another masterpiece with great storytelling. The play is topical, heightened by our daily exposure to media images about what is happening in the Middle East and also closer to home. More awards could beckon.