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The Beekeeper of Aleppo

by on 3 May 2023

Land Milked of Honey

The Beekeeper of Aleppo

by Christy Lefteri, adapted by Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler

Nottingham Playhouse at Richmond Theatre until 6th May, then on tour until 1st July

Review by Harry Zimmerman

Based on Christy Lefteri’s 2019 internationally bestselling novel, and adapted for the stage by Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler, The Beekeeper of Aleppo tells the story of Nuri, a humble beekeeper from war-torn Aleppo, and his wife Afra, as they escape the perils of the Syrian civil war and travel across the Middle East and Europe to be reunited with Nuri’s cousin and mentor, Mustafa. 

We accompany them a journey which is full of trauma and discomfort, from the misery of refugee camps and perilous sea crossings ending up in England, where the cold, unfeeling bureaucracy of Government institutions delivers further frustration and anxiety.

“We lost our bees, let us see if we can save our children…”

The narrative moves swiftly through time and space, with Nuri sometimes setting scenes through directly addressing the audience.  Shifting locations are superbly evoked by light and sound, via powerful music, appropriate sound effects, and stunning film projection.  Particularly harrowing in this respect was the breath-taking depiction of a storm at sea and its effects upon those clinging to hope, and life, in the fragile boat. 

The set, depicting shifting sands and integrated parts of the home, such as beds and armchairs, is particularly effective, serving not only as a backdrop to visual projections depicting elements of the journey, but also playing its part in grounding certain scenes.  Especially striking was the use of a trapdoor built into the sands which enabled an escape to be made from the arrival of the soldiers. 

Alfred Clay gives a stunning, tour de force performance as Nuri, ably supported by Roxy Faridany as his increasingly sightless spouse, Afra.  There is a gentle and powerful chemistry between the two that develops as the play progresses.  Some of the final moments between them are achingly beautiful, causing audience members to involuntarily hold their breath.

Joseph Long delivers an absorbing portrayal of Mustafa, Nuri’s Uncle, fellow beekeeper and mentor, whose observations upon the English character bring chuckles from the audience as he expands upon the importance of queueing, taking tea with milk and addressing everyone as “Geezer”.  Aram Mardourian also helps to deliver much-needed light relief in his engaging depiction of Nadim, a character sharing Nuri and Afra’s bed and breakfast accommodation.  These characters bring a welcome injection of humour, leavening the unavoidable darker themes which run through the narrative.

Indeed, the supporting cast members are uniformly strong, and deliver powerful and always believable performances, whether as emotionless civil servants, unscrupulous human traffickers, or tragic refugees.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is not a comfortable watch, and nor should it be.  The resonance and importance of the play is especially striking when one considers recent events which perpetuate the human misery of seeking refuge from war, violence and the destruction of homes and lives. 

This is certainly a production that tugs at the heartstrings but does so much more than this.  It tells a powerful and harrowing story through engaging performances and the development of thought-provoking themes.  It has an uplifting, intensely moving quality in its powerful depiction of the ultimate triumph of hope and humanity over the most painful levels of suffering. 

Harry Zimmerman, May 2023

Photography by Manuel Harlan

One Comment
  1. Joseph Long permalink

    Thanks for the lovely review. Just want to point out that the ‘geezer’ character in the B&B is also played by Joseph Long and not as described in your otherwise fantastic review.

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