DramaNorth East & YorkshireOnlineReview

Aaliyah: After Antigone – Impact Hub, Bradford

Reviewer - Ruth Jepson

Writer: Kamal Kaan

Directors: Alex Chisholm and Dermot Daly

What do you want to be remembered for, when your children say your name?

Covid 19 has forced theatre companies into finding new and innovative ways to reach audiences, and even as the world has opened up, more and more are continuing to take advantage of the new technologies. Freedom Studio has chosen to simultaneously premier their new show, Aaliyah: After Antigone in person at Impact Hub Bradford, and as a live multicamera online experience. This is a wonderfully accessible use of new ways of working, and long may it continue.

A contemporary retelling of the play Antigone by Sophocles – which sees Oedipus’ daughter protesting the lack of burial for her dead bother – Aaliyah: After Antigone updates the setting from Mythological Greece to modern day Bradford, at the Local Authority offices which British Bangladeshi sisters Aaliyah (Halema Hussain) and Imani (Lydia Hasoon) are cleaning while awaiting word of their brother Syeed, who is about to be deported by the Home Office. As Antigone does with Creon, Aaliyah must raise up in protest against Home Secretary Parveen Parvaiz (Siddiqua Akhtar, clearly playing Priti Patel) when the deportation is confirmed, and her own citizenship is soon in danger.

The effects and influence of Covid 19 are clear in the play, with Akhtar’s Home Secretary contributing via Zoom (an interesting use of the platform), and Brexit, Windrush and BLM are reflected in the whole plot being about the deportation of a Bangladeshi born man after he is merely suspected of terrorism (or something similar – its never clearly articulated) . This makes for a heavy show, one which wants to make important points about radicalisation and bigotry, although the communication of these important issues is not the clearest it could be. The office setting is rather clinical and hard to penetrate, as we don’t really see the characters at rest or see what makes them who they are. Neither do we really know what the cause of the deportation is (although this sadly does reflect the confusion many feel about their own experiences). Not seeing and having time to warm to the characters before everything kicks off makes it hard to care about their cause too. It doesn’t help that Hussain is constantly acting at level 10, with all her lines shouted or wailed until such high emotion becomes completely ineffective. On the other hand, her husband Hussain (Jag Sanghere) is so flat as to be almost monotone. Thankfully Hasoon and Parvaiz are better at balancing their characters, and Hasoon especially presents an interesting amount of character development in her short time on stage.

All of this is frustrating, as Aaliyah: After Antigone could be a great play. Another draft of the script to remove some pointless plot points and expand on others, plus a few months more rehearsal, and it could be a wonderfully challenging piece of theatre. At the moment, the story unfortunately feels rushed, over acted and confusing.

Runs until October 16th2021

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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