Review: Angel, Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

Kate Griffin visits the Sherman Theatre to review Angel, the legendary story of Rehana who in 2014 remained in in her hometown of Kobane to defend it as a sniper against the onslaught of ISIS.

How do you respond when the certainties of your world are crumbling? What do you do when everything you have is being taken from you or destroyed? Fight.

Angel tells the story of a young Syrian farm girl whose world is torn apart by ISIS. Rehana must abandon her family’s land and her ambitions of becoming a lawyer, in order to flee – but not to safety. Hers is a journey beset by roadblocks and traumatic experiences.

The play draws inspiration from the Angel of Kobane, an internet legend with at least some basis in reality. The Angel of social media and press reports is a symbol of resistance, a Kurdish fighter said to have killed over 100 members of ISIS. But the Rehana of this play is a more complex character. She wrestles with her innate pacifism and powerful doubts, even as the violence inflicted on her forces her to act. Yasemin Özdemir masterfully depicts the character’s evolution from naïve teenager to a brutalised woman with nothing left to lose.

Although it is a one-hander, Angel has a powerful relationship at its core: Rehana and her father. The man she runs to for protection as a schoolgirl foresees the time when she will have to defend herself and does his best to prepare her for it. But ultimately neither of them is strong enough to defend their family’s farm and its ancient pistachio trees from an ISIS takeover.

Angel includes some very distressing subject matter and can be hard to watch at times. But Peter Doran’s direction is very good at bringing out the light and shade. There are moments of humour and warmth alongside the horror.

The play is set in 2014, just a few years into the Syrian civil war, but some of its themes are timeless. One key message is how easily a person with a home and plans for the future can be transformed into a refugee by outside forces. When we talk about “migrants” en masse, we are refusing to recognise the multitude of stories behind that label. And, as Angel shows us, many of those stories richly deserve to be told.

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