Cerys-Leigh Phipps reflects on the power of Henry Naylor’s Angel, the true story of Yasemin Özdemir’s Rehana and her fight to protect her hometown from ISIS advances.
Set in 2014 Kobane, Henry Naylor’s Angel follows the true, gut-wrenching story of Rehana and her fight to protect her hometown from ISIS advances. First performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival back in 2016, this proactive production has gone on to global success with many international performances and awards under its belt, which is hardly surprising. Now being brought to numerous stages in South Wales by Torch Theatre, Rehana is back and ready to educate audiences on the cruel reality of what it’s like living in a war-torn country, and the unimaginable lengths civilians and soldiers alike must go to in order to survive.
First and foremost, the tear-jerking performance given by Yasemin Özdemir as Rehana deserves endless recognition and praise. Being a one-woman play, the performance of a solo actor can either make or break a production, and when it comes to Angel and Özdemir’s portrayal of Rehana, the only thing breaking would be the heart of each audience member. Although the only performer on stage, Özdemir’s passionate performance fills the theatre; she has the same power in her voice and gait of a 40-piece ensemble. It is without doubt that Yasemin Özdemir is an endlessly talented performer as she goes from reminiscing light-hearted teasing with her father, singing Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’, to reciting a bone-chilling monologue about her first kill as a sniper for the YPG.
The believability in Özdemir’s portrayal of Rehana is admirable as we watch her character develop from a relatable teenager to a fearless fighter as the darker and scarier her experiences become. Her timing, body language and voice adaptations allow her to completely embody a version of Rehana the audience deserve to witness. Watching this actress perform is a true privilege, and it is clear that the future is bright for Yasemin Özdemir.
Paired with this impeccable performance is the beautifully written piece of drama/theatre by Henry Naylor. Alongside Rehana’s raw, emotional story of sacrifice and struggle, Naylor chooses to raise a number of important reality checks throughout the performance; the cruel realities that people are forced to live through being exposed. In particular, Naylor chooses to focus on the mistreatment, abuse and survival tactics faced and used by women and girls as they are stripped of their freedoms. The themes presented in this performance are uncomfortable, yet educational. As we follow Rehana, we are exposed to the horrors of child marriages and the rape and sexual abuse forced upon these girls and women. Although these stories are difficult to watch, it is important that they are consumed. Rehana not only exposes her own story, but the cruel reality that many still face today. Knowing that these sequences are based off of true events only adds to the power of this performance.
The staging decisions made for this performance are also interesting to note. With minimal set pieces and props, the majority of the drama is created by Rehana as she mimes a lot of her story. The only real piece of set we see is an old, damaged stone wall which is used for multiple different reasons throughout the performance, dependant on how Rehana needs it. The lack of set pieces focuses our attention on the story Rehana is telling, the believability of this piece stems from the actor’s incredible performance, rather than the realism of the staging. Through these aesthetic choices, an emphasis on human struggle is created, it is not where the story takes place but how it is told by the person experiencing them.
Narratives such as Rehana’s play an important role in our perception of the modern world; they open our eyes to the stories that would usually remain hidden. It is important these stories begin to receive the level of recognition they deserve, especially when thinking about the 2022 political climate. Stories like Rehana’s remind us that war is not just what we see on the news, or facts and figures we read in textbooks and newspapers. Behind the scenes are people fighting, just like Rehana, for what they believe to be right, no matter the consequences, and it is time that these stories were more widely told.
Angel will return for a homecoming performance at the Torch Theatre, Milford Haven on October 22. Tickets are available here.