In his words: Henry Naylor on sniper drama Angel

Writer/producer Henry Naylor tells us about award-winning one-woman play Angel, inspired by the story of an unlikely sniper.

1 / 1

Angel is one of the most successful plays on the international fringe circuit, winning more than 10 major awards in the past year. Writer/producer Henry Naylor describes the show and its evolution:

“Angel is based on a true story, that of a prolific sniper who is said to have shot more than 100 members of ISIS during the Siege of Kobane.

“She was allegedly a law student who gave up her studies and took up arms when the jihadis besieged her home town. She quickly discovered she had an aptitude for killing, and became lethal.

“But her story is shrouded in mystery. Nobody knows whether she’s still alive, or dead. ISIS claims to have beheaded her… twice. The Kurds say she got away…twice. So it’s a very intriguing and beguiling story.

“I wrote Angel as a one-woman show for Edinburgh in 2016. It was to be a showcase for Filipa Bragança, a wonderful actress who I worked with on my previous show, Echoes. She was superb at playing a variety of characters, so I built that into the script. There are 17 different characters and she was able to switch effortlessly from one to the next.

“In 2017, Avital Lvova has taken on the role. It’s been fascinating for me to have seen two such imaginative and creative actresses bringing their different skills to the piece.

“Filipa performed it with a lyrical musicality. It was like watching a one-hour poem. Avital’s interpretation is much more physical and energetic. It’s like watching a one-person action show. One critic in New York even described her performance as the ‘most brilliant and harrowing this critic has ever seen’. It’s impossible for me to say which interpretation I like best. Both are brilliant, but so different. They’re impossible to compare.

Angel at Arcola Theatre (Image: Rosalind Furlong)
Angel at Arcola Theatre (Image: Rosalind Furlong)

“I worked with director Michael Cabot on the show. He’s an old mate. We worked together nearly 25 years ago when we were students, doing the National Student Drama Festival. Now he’s the Artistic Director of London Classic Theatre. And he’s REALLY good.

“We developed a very stripped-back style. This was mainly because the show originated at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where there’s only 15 minutes turnover between shows. So there isn’t the time to erect huge sets or refocus the lights.

“We deliberately dispensed with the set altogether – except for a barrel. There’s no music cues and minimal lighting. Basically, we reduced theatre to the essentials of script, director and actor. When it’s pared back that much, everybody has to be at the top of their game or the show falls apart! So we all raised our game, determined not to let the rest of the team down!

“The show’s done amazingly well. At Edinburgh it sold out every single performance and got 18 five- and four-star reviews. It won the Fringe First at Edinburgh and the Holden Street Theatres’ Edinburgh Fringe Award. The latter had a great prize; the winners took their production to Adelaide. And so we had February in the sunshine! We also picked up four of the leading theatre awards out there.

“And then we transferred for a month off-Broadway. That was great. The critics went nuts for the show. We got fantastic reviews out there. In fact, the Americans have this system called Show-Score. It works out the average score for your show (out of 100), based on all the reviews you get. We scored 86 to 87 per cent, which consistently placed Angel as one of the top three critically received plays in all of New York (on  and off-Broadway) for the duration of its run.

“I’m very proud of Angel. The show turned out as I wanted, and it’s helping us to see the world. We’ve been to Luxemburg, Belgium, Charleston, New York, Australia… And after our run at the Arcola Theatre, next stop is Cape Verde! And Moscow, and Holland after that…”

Angel runs at Arcola Theatre from 11 September to 7 October.