Aaliyah: After Antigone review – Sophocles’s moral dilemmas play out in Bradford

There is a home secretary hell bent on protecting UK borders. There is a charity worker being deported to a country where his homosexuality is a crime. And there are two British Bengali sisters, struggling in zero-hours cleaning jobs, whose acts of civil disobedience risk them losing their nationality.

The mood might be heightened, but the political threat is real in Kamal Kaan’s angsty play in which the moral dilemmas of Sophocles’s Antigone are transplanted from Ancient Greece to modern-day Bradford. Here, in an out-of-hours office, Halema Hussain’s Aaliyah puts loyalty to her brother above respect for the law, as she and sister Imani (Lydia Hasoon) turn a social-media campaign into a takeover of Leeds Bradford airport.

Staged by Freedom Studios in association with Carbon Imagineering, the production was designed to be performed online, as I saw it, as well as in person even before the pandemic struck. Directed by Alex Chisholm and Dermot Daly, it flits from conventional camera to iPhone, TV screen and conference call, as if to stress the always-on flow of information in the modern age.

Processing so much information, though, is onerous. Aaliyah is burdened enough by being at the bottom of the economic heap in a racist society, but in Kaan’s telling, she also discovers that Siddiqua Akhtar’s home secretary is her mother in law, that two family members have been killed and that she is pregnant. The deaths of her parents from Covid-19 gets no more than a passing mention.

For all the play’s welcome political rage, it leaves too little time to reflect on the emotional impact of all this – and too many questions about the likelihood of it happening at once.