Edinburgh review: Angel (Gilded Balloon)

A remarkable one-woman show about a legendary Kurdish woman sniper at the Edinburgh Fringe

Filipa Braganca in Angel
Filipa Braganca in Angel
© Steve Ullathorne

It’s a lonely life as a solo performer in Edinburgh, but one of the many remarkable qualities of this haunting one-woman show is the way it peoples the stage with multitudes.

It is based on the legend of the "Angel of Kobani" – a Kurdish woman sniper who, according to the stories that grew up around her, killed more than 100 ISIS extremists before herself being beheaded. The strength of the script, by Spitting Image writer and satirist Henry Naylor, is in the way it builds a picture of a girl who grows up with dreams of being a lawyer, but finds herself in a situation where the only way to fight for justice is with a rifle.

The early scenes are wonderful, as Filipa Braganca, only just out of drama school, draws vivid pictures of the girl and her farmer father, who instinctively believes she has the right to be anything she wants yet trains her to shoot just in case. When the Syrian civil war breaks out just across the border and the extremists form marauding gangs, that provision proves her salvation.

We follow her story as she is driven from her home, is sold for sex "to a man of influence", escapes, and finally takes up fighting on the grounds that it is better to be empowered than enslaved. There are shocking events along the way, yet the play is not without humour; one joke about the confusion between Mariah Carey and Marie Curie is particularly satisfying.

Needing to fill the allotted hour and no more, Angel rushes aspects of its narrative. The denouement, which brings the girl full circle back to her idyllic home, provokes tears but feels too quick. Yet the whole thing compels, partly through the detail of the writing, but mainly through Braganca’s performance which conjures all the characters, good and evil, without ever losing her grip on the central emotion and realism of the girl’s story. It’s a terrific tour de force.

Angel runs at the Gilded Balloon at 4.30pm until 29 August.

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