In 2014, ISIS was dominant through Iraq and Syria and seemed unstoppable.
When they reached the small Kurdish town of Kobane on the border it looked like they would claim another victory, according to playwright Henry Naylor.
He says Islamists were armed with tanks, howitzers and Humvees while the Kurds were armed with ageing Russian rifles and determination – yet the Kurds drove back their attackers.
“The papers didn’t offer many details of what turned the tide. But after ferreting around on the internet, I found that a division of female fighters, called the YPJ, were at the centre of the action,” Naylor says.
His tale, Angel, comes to the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre in February and is set in the midst of the “Seige of Kobane” and focuses on one extraordinary fighter.
Naylor stumbled across the legend of “The Angel of Kobane”, a young law student who dropped her studies to defend her town when ISIS attacked.
Legend has it she shot up to 100 Jihadis.
“The story fascinated me,” says Naylor. “At the start of her journey, she believed in the rule of law. By the end she had become a prolific killer: dispensing her justice through a gun-sight.”
Despite the battle being compared to Stalingrad, the writer claims the average person is “largely ignorant” of what went on.
“Personally, I’ve been obsessed by events out there for a long time – ever since I went out to Afghanistan in 2003 … so, feel it’s important to share what I know!”
Merrigong artistic director Simon Hinton says he chose to see 27 shows at last year’s Edinburgh Festival on a scouting mission and this “extraordinary” piece stood out.
“Angel created a sensation in Edinburgh, selling out its entire four week run, winning several awards, including the coveted Fringe First,” Hinton says.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be sharing it with Australian audiences at its Australian debut here in the Illawarra.”
Naylor says he is yet to receive any negative feedback to what he calls, a very human story.
“I think there’s a thirst for knowledge about the conflict in the Middle East. I’ve been staggered by the [packed venues] we’ve been getting,” he says.
“Perhaps, after the tragedies in Paris and Berlin people are trying to make sense of what’s going on in the world. If artists can provide some insight, it’s a welcome development.”
Angel runs at the IPAC from February 7 to 11; with a free Talking Point with playwright Henry Naylor and actor Burhan Zangana on February 11.