Theatre review: Counting Sheep; Angel By Henry Naylor

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Where is it, the tipping point that plunges the kind of peaceful society we take for granted into the horror of war, and of death on the streets? It’s a question that lies at the heart of these two magnificent, challenging shows on this year’s Fringe.

Star rating: Counting Sheep ****

Angel by Henry Naylor

Angel by Henry Naylor

Angel ****

Venue: Summerhall @ The King’s Hall (Venue 73)

Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14)

And although they could hardly be more different in style, they both come as powerful warnings against any complacent assumption that these struggles will never touch us, here in western Europe.

Created in Toronto by Canadian-Ukrainian theatre artists Mark and Marichka Marczyk, who were themselves part of the Euromaidan protests in Kiev in the winter of 2013-14, Counting Sheep is a “guerrilla folk opera” of astonishing vigour, invention and scale, featuring a cast of 12, magnificent dance, music and song in the Ukrainian choral tradition, and a makeshift meal served to the entire audience.

In essence, the show is a passionate re-creation of the scenes that took shape in Kiev’s main square, as a generation of students and other citizens burst onto the streets in protest at the pro-Russian and anti-EU policies of the Ukrainian government of the time. Filmed scenes from the real events loom on huge screens around the hall; and as the company pull away our seats to build barricades and whirl us into the dancing, each of us is forced to feel a brief sense of what it is to be drawn and jostled into a real, living collective, facing a brutal and sometimes lethal police response.

And although the Euromaidan protests were successful in overthrowing the Ukrainian government and replacing it with a pro-western one, the war – as the show warns us – is not over; within weeks, Vladimir Putin’s Russia had hit back by annexing Crimea, and fomenting the bloody and destructive civil war in East Ukraine, which rumbles on still.

Angel, the third play in Henry Naylor’s award-winning Middle Eastern trilogy is a far tidier work than Counting Sheep, a simple but devastating one-hour monologue delivered by a young Kurdish woman, Angel, who grew up on a farm near Kobani in northern Syria. On a stage empty except for a single large barrel, she tells the story of her childhood, of a father who dreamed of a time when men and women would truly be equal, and of her own strong pacifist convictions and hopes of becoming a lawyer.

When she is 17, though, the war comes to Kobani, in the shape of a Daesh/IS siege and occupation; the fields start to burn, but Angel stays, ­somehow surviving all the horrific risks that face young women in IS-controlled areas, until she finally joins a band of Kurdish female fighters. Naylor’s tight, beautifully-structured script is loosely based on the true story of the legendary female fighter known as Rehana; and the actress Filipa Braganca delivers it with an intensity, a wit, and a passionate sense of what might have been that breaks the heart, and poses tough questions about our own complicity in the chaos that finally overwhelms her.

Counting Sheep until 28 August; today 8pm. Angel By Henry Naylor until 29 August; today 4:30pm.

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