When this powerful and moving solo show finished, I wanted the actress Filipa Braganςa to come back on stage, just so I could applaud some more. In fact, I wanted to stay there and watch the whole show all over again. It really is that good. In an hour, with nothing more than a wooden barrel on stage – though aided, it must be acknowledged, by apparently simple but very effective lighting – she creates an entire world of characters and events.
From the off I felt I was there, in Rehana’s relatively unheard-of hometown of Kobane in northern Syria. So far north that a kilometre more would put them in Turkey, a fact significant to the unfolding events of the story. The Syrian conflict is something we hear of daily on the news, but the drive of this play – which features the Kurdish YPG defending their territory against ISIS – is a very human story of broad appeal. At its heart is Rehana’s relationship with her father. As a teenager, Rehana loves Beyoncé and wants to be a lawyer; to her father’s chagrin, she declares herself a pacifist. But he insists she learns to shoot, and in an unexpected twist of fate, it is her mastery of a rifle which saves Angel. Well, almost.
So sharp is Braganςa’s characterisation, and so skilful her switch from character to character in conversation, that by the end of the hour I felt that I’d literally met and got to know a complete cast of characters. They range from her mother, to local rascal and later VIP Waheed, to the taxi driver trafficking women who so kindly rescues and smuggles her, to the individual female resistance fighters she finally joins. And of course, there’s her father: a proud man who would be so proud of Rehana. When it comes down to it, she’s doubtless her father’s daughter.
Braganςa only left drama school eighteen months ago, apparently, making this feat of performance even more impressive. But we mustn’t overlook the script she’s working with. It’s written by Henry Naylor, whose credentials include well-known TV shows, as well as the two other plays in his Arabian Nightmares trilogy (one of which also features Braganςa in an award-winning role). Naylor’s writing is poetic and concise, and he perfectly captures the idiosyncrasies which bring characters alive – even as every scene drives them forward.
There is so much to admire about this show. It’s heartrending without sentimentalising; it’s insightful without preaching, it’s truthful, and it’s a bit funny. It’s an absolute must-see.