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From Borders to Angel: the duo putting political drama on stage

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One year after their explosive approach took Edinburgh Fringe by storm, Henry Naylor and Avital Lvova returned this year with new play Borders.  

We met a few weeks ago while Henry and Avital were in Edinburgh, and here’s what happened.

Naylor’s play, Borders, returns us to Syria, and explores how the West view conflict through lenses provided for us by Western photographers. It is story that compels its audience towards strong feeling but keeps spectators at a distance. Avital played a daring Syrian graffiti artist who risks her life to spray-paint slogans denouncing Assad.

How have audiences responded, I ask. “People reacted strongly. I think people have become desensitised by the whole refugee issue,” says writer Henry Naylor. “Apparently, there are more refugees coming across at the moment than at any time; and yet it barely makes the news. It’s very important for me to help the average person on the street connect with the story”

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Henry Naylor

Borders won a Fringe First this year, which was a critical seal of approval and put more bums on seats. They both have nothing but praise and gratitude for the awards. “It’s massive! Winning a Fringe First means a lot to me,” Naylor says.

“It’s had a wide range of positive reactions. Sometimes people come out weeping – and its breath-taking to see people in complete tears,” adds actress Avital Lvova.

“The Scotsman cover so much and for them to pick your show out is humbling. Chief Critic Joyce McMillan is extraordinary. I’m amazed at how well she grasps these productions, after only a single viewing. I find Borders quite hard to describe but not her; she nailed it in just a paragraph,” Naylor says, smiling.

“Others come out in a numb state. One lady came up to me after a show the other day and said ‘I don’t know why I’m not crying – I’m so numb,’ it makes you think of where we are right now and how privileged we are,” she says.

When you are at Edinburgh Fringe preserving your mental health, and taking care of yourself is paramount; there is such a mixture of raw emotions in the air in work around topics such as race, identity, sexuality and diversity; you are often experiencing them within 30 minutes of each other. What are their tips for surviving the Fringe?  “Find a quiet place for yourself at least once a day – you’re surrounded by such opinions and people,” says Lvova. She adds. “Find some peace for yourself. Safeguard time out for yourself. I make sure I do that once a day.”

“My wife is a stand up (Sarah Kendall) and her approach is to not listen to any reviews, she knows it is going well because its selling seats,” says Naylor. “My approach has to be the opposite because I’m producing the show, so I have to know what people are saying and either fire fight or put up stars on the posters.”

In 2016 Naylor premiered the third instalment of the Arabian Nightmares, Angel, at the Gilded Balloon – the play is currently one week into its London transfer. So, what is it about? Angel is the true story of a woman in the Kurdish region of Syria who gave up her studies to become a prolific sniper,” Naylor explains. “Apparently, she shot over 100 extremists. It is said that ISIS believe if you are killed by a woman you can’t enter paradise – so they were allegedly terrified of her. Angel tells her story and Avital does it astonishingly well,” he pauses and grins. “It’s like watching a one-person action movie.”

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Avital Lvova in Angel © Steve Ullathorne

“I’m incredibly happy and privileged to have been chosen to tell this story. I’m happy that I can tell someone else’s stories that are not heard enough,” adds Lvova.

Angel is at the Arcola, until 7 October. Box office: 0207 503 1646.