#Ad: Tickets Gifted for Press Night
Last night we returned to the Torch theatre to watch our first live stage show in over eighteen months. It seems an age ago now that we heard that theatres would close and our upcoming tickets to Milford Haven Operatic Society’s “Guys and Dolls” would be cancelled. To say it’s been a tough time for many, would be an understatement. We’ve seen sickness, death, overworked NHS workers and so many people struggling due to their industry closures, including our beloved theatres. As a theatre go-er, I was both anxious and excited to watch my first live show after all this time. I can hardly imagine how this feeling would have been magnified by the staff and crew at the Torch. They’ve been waiting for this and they welcomed us with open arms.
Read on to find out all about our night:
A Night Out
As well as being our first night at the theatre, it was our first night out full stop. I was very nervous about it but it was certainly needed. It felt so good to drop the kids off, take time to get dressed up, spray on my favourite perfume, and put on some makeup. We even treated ourselves to a taxi (another “post-Covid” first for me) so we could have a drink (my first in months) on this special occasion. We saw familiar faces, that we’d not seen in ages and there was an excited, expectant atmosphere.
The warning bell rang and there was a flurry of activity. People hurriedly finished conversations, downed their drinks, popped to the ladies, and ran to the bar! Then we all made our way to our seats. It was nearly time.
Social Distanced Performance
I’ve been to see a film at the Torch recently (“In The Heights” and it was amazing!). It was completely socially distanced and the seating was very well spaced out. When I heard that live theatre shows would be back at full capacity, I’ll admit I did feel nervous but I also understand that it has to be this way to be sustainable. As it happened, we were lucky and both had an empty seat on either side of us. There is a Socially Distanced performance of Angel on Monday 18th October (call the Box Office to check availability and book). It’s as safe and as viable as it can be (theatres make sure of this as it’s in their best interests to make sure their cast and crew stay well too, as well as the audience members, of course). If we all get double vaccinated, stay home if we have symptoms, take lateral flow tests regularly, wear a mask, use sanitiser and avoid unnecessary contact with others, then we can all continue to enjoy the theatre safely.
“Angel” is the story of Rehana. In 2014 Kurdish families were fleeing Kobane to avoid the inevitable ISIS onslaught; Rehana stayed to fight and defend her town; as a sniper, she allegedly killed more than 100 ISIS fighters. When her story came out, she became an internet sensation and a symbol of resistance against the Islamic State and dubbed the ‘Angel of Kobane’.
Angel, a one-woman show, is the third story in Henry Naylor’s Arabian Nightmares trilogy and was first staged to great acclaim at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2016. Since then it has been seen around the world to great critical acclaim, winning awards at many international festivals. The Torch Theatre bring you their own production this October, directed by Peter Doran, designed by Sean Crowley, and featuring Yasemin Özdemir as the eponymous Angel.
Yasemin grew up in Haverfordwest and is a former member of the Torch Youth Theatre. She describes Angel as a ‘massively empowering piece’ and agrees the takeaway is a lesson in courageousness and inspiration for people to take action, by doing what they feel is right.
“If you are set on doing something, there’s nothing in your way except yourself…you are your own worst enemy but also your biggest cheerleader. If you want to do something, pursue it, no matter how hard it is.”
As I sat down eagerly anticipating the start of the show, I thought of Yasemin backstage waiting for her moment to go on. I imagine taking that first step on stage, alone is the scariest. If that’s true, then our leading lady didn’t let it show at all. She captured the audience from the start and magnificently sustained this throughout.
Set and Lighting
The set, by Production Designer Sean Crowley, was flawlessly minimal: with a sandy desert floor, brick wall, a crate, and a tree. It was all that was needed and allowed Yasemin to bring us to every scene within the play- from the family farm to a ride in a jeep. She is a master of mime, and it’s only later I think to myself there wasn’t actually a (prop) gun shown in this play, yet I can picture it.
The lighting by Andrew Sturley enhances the set and story, the red, hot tones emit the heat of Kobane, and take us from dawn to dusk. It’s very effective and the timing is perfect, especially during the shock blackout moment.
The Torch Theatre’s Artistic Director, Peter Doran’s care for this story shines through in the superb direction. On Angel, he says:
“Angel is one of those shows, that stays with you for a long time, you just can’t stop thinking about. It’s undoubtedly one of the most powerful plays I’ve ever seen. It’s a joy to be working on our own version of it.”
“It is what is happening in the world. The Syrian conflict is massive, but behind closed doors, there are individuals and that’s the beauty of this play. It’s not about the Syrian conflict, it’s about an individual family and how they survive during the conflict.”
In this modern age, we’re still reliant on the media to present us with the news. We only know what they want us to hear.
“If you haven’t heard of Kobane, it’s okay. Not many people have…
The reason you barely know about it? The journalists all fled, lest they were beheaded.”
The playwright, Henry Naylor, has had a long-time fascination with the Middle East. His flatmate had covered the war in Afghanistan in 2001. Together they visited Kabul, on a life-changing trip. Naylor noticed how underreported events in this region were, due to both the danger involved and the belief that people are “fatigued with Syria”. He was attracted to telling Rehana’s story to counteract the patronising tendency to portray Middle Eastern women as passive victims, which was clearly not true when over 35% of the soldiers defending Kobane were women.
When I read the pre-show “blurb” about Angel, and the father who forced her to “train” rather than get her education and become a lawyer, as was her lifelong ambition, I made some prejudiced assumptions about this man. I assumed he may be old-fashioned, sexist, and uncaring. In the show, Rehana’s monologue brings her farming father to life.
“In this country, women will be truly the equal to men.” he states as the confident Rehana sassily replies, “God forbid I become your equal, my IQ would have to drop by 100 points.”
Even while teaching his daughter to handle a gun, they share touching and comical moments. He wants to teach her the “Liberation song” as a reward, she negotiates with him that she will but only if he also learns Beyonce! “All the single ladies…”
When Rehana informs him, “Girls shouldn’t hold guns.”, he replied, gruffly but wisely, “Neither should men.”
We come to realise that it’s not that he doesn’t want his daughter to become a lawyer (“Like William Shatner?”), it’s not that he wants to keep her off school. He doesn’t have a choice, and neither ultimately did Rehana.
The Daesh are Coming
Life seems to be going well for Rehana, she’d just got a place in Law School, she’s on the cusp of realizing her dreams.
Then suddenly: Crackles. Bangs. Thumps. The Daesh are coming.
Rehana and her mother need to flee. “They’ll look after us in Europe.” her mother hopes. “We are full,” says Turkey.
It is for her father that Rehana decides to stay. On her journey to find him, her driver is killed, she is captured, put in the ISIS slave market, and selected for rape (her body his reward for war). Like many women before her, her “blood is her last line of defence”, she is saved by (the pretence of) her period.
When Rehana witnesses a young girl, driven to suicide she vows to never be a victim. “Look them in the eyes. Make them see every drop of pain. Make them face the consequences of their evil.” In making them see their humanity, she shows us too.
Even after all this, she is not yet convinced to kill. “I’m a pacifist.”. But eventually, she realises she has no choice but to join the women’s defence unit (YPJ), “You may not want to fight Daesh, but they’re fighting you. You’re everything they hate: Western, Liberal, Educated.”.
Once she has her first kill, it gets easier, she is a killer now, and yet she feels “with every kill, a small death of my own.”
It’s said to be an Islamic State fighter’s worst fear: to be killed by a woman. “If they are killed by a woman, they can’t enter paradise. No seventy-two virgins for them.”
Unsurprisingly, there is no happy-ever-after ending in “Angel”. It’s an important, powerful story that needs to be heard. This production shows us the human side at the front line. While we may never know the whole truth about Rehana, this play shows us the truths of this situation. I walked out wanting to learn more and I’m sure others did too.
Yasemin Özdemir gave a bold, high energy performance filled with compassion and humour. We were gripped in our seats until the end of the play. Live theatre, you have been missed, it’s good to have you back.
“The sacrifice and heroism of our brave women: trees falling in an unreported forest. So. Lest it’s forgotten, here’s our story.“
Wow! @TorchTheatre I’ve not had that feeling in a theatre for a long time, where the last line is spoken and you’re rooted to your seat because you can’t actually move. Beautiful perf @_YOzdemir directed @Poshcosh written @HenryNaylorUK set @seancrowley99 Just faultless! #Angel pic.twitter.com/slbX1xkuSc— Michelle McTernan (@McTernan1971) October 14, 2021
Book tickets for Angel
Angel runs from Tuesday 12th to Saturday 23rd October with a socially distanced performance available on Monday 18th October. There is also a BSL interpreted performance (interpreter Liz May) on Tuesday 19th October. Tickets cost £14, £13 concessions and £8.50 for U26. Tickets are available to book through the Torch Theatre’s Box Office on 01646 695267 or www.torchtheatre.co.uk.
Please note – Angel contains strong language and distressing scenes that some may find uncomfortable. This Production is recommended for those aged 14 and above.
The Joanna Field Gallery
The production of Angel will run alongside an exhibition in the Joanna Field Gallery, adjacent to the Café Torch, displaying artwork by the refugees from the Penally Camp as well as The Pembrokeshire Story project.
Cinderella Pantomime at the Torch Theatre
Looking for a show for the family? Torch Theatre’s 2021 pantomime, Cinderella will open on 16th December. Book your tickets now.