Review by Daz Gale
Shows about bees are like buses – you wait your whole life for one to come around and then two arrive at once. While The Secret Life Of Bees makes a buzz at London’s Almeida theatre, The Beekeeper of Aleppo makes its way around the country. Will its arrival in London this week be a happy ending or would it find when it comes to shows about bees, it wouldn’t manage to be the Queen?
Based on the 2019 International bestseller by Christy Lefteri, UK productions Ltd have presented the Nottingham Playhouse production of The Beekeeper of Aleppo in a world premiere stage adaptation by Nesrin Alreaai and Matthew Spangler. It tells the story of beekeeper Nuri and his wife Afra who life in the Syrian city of Aleppo. As war breaks out, they are forced to escape the home they love and face a dangerous journey to safety as they enter British shores hoping to claim asylum.
It would be stating the obvious to say this was a story we have heard time and time again in recent years. While a revolving door of demonic Home Secretaries might not sympathise with the plight of asylum seekers, those of us with an ounce of humanity can’t help but feel moved, shocked and saddened by the images we see on the news. To take such a raw subject such as this which is still ever so relevant and prominent and truly do it justice is no easy task. There is a careful balance that must be taken to ensure the story is told with sensitivity, not watering down the horrors they face for entertainment value but never feeling exploitative of their plight. Thankfully, the right tone is set early on and continues onwards thanks to the excellent writing.
Christy Lefteri’s original text has been wonderfully adapted by Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler in a way that never compromises the original tone, finding a way to make the story theatrical and be expressed through this different medium perfectly. At times understated, at others overblown, its non-linear narrative creates a show that throws you in to a completely different scenario at a moments notice, sometimes uncomfortably. This is what makes the storytelling so impressive. Every detail of this story and how audiences are going to see Nuri’s struggle has been meticulously thought out and flawlessly executed.
The writing comes alive thanks to Miranda Cromwells expert direction, beautifully transforming scenes and allowing the wonderful cast to tell the story with sometimes nothing more than a facial expression. The mix of subtlety and louder moments are part of what makes The Beekeeper of Aleppo such an interesting watch. Equally mesmerising is the brilliant set design from Ruby Pugh, transforming the stage from war-torn Syria to various countries on their travels to the UK with some inspired touches. Ravi Deepres film design is a key factor in the stage transformation with video footage used to fantastic effect, particularly one truly upsetting moment which sees pre-war Syria turned into post-war Syria in a split second. Ben Ormerod’s lighting design is incredibly atmospheric, setting the mood and at times creating a real sense of discomfort.
As good as the writing and staging is, it’s the cast that truly brings the story home. Alfred Clay is a marvel to watch as Nuri – initially charming but hiding an inner torment. He fascinatingly explores the complexities of the character and manages to convey the horrors he has been through with some truly outstanding acting. Roxy Faridany gives a more understated performance as his wife Afra but is equally good in the role as she keeps a comparative silence while worrying about the state of her husband.
Seven actors make up the rest of the cast, taking on multiple roles between them and all to a fantastic level. Highlights among them are Daphne Kouma in her turn as the immigration officer and Nadia Williams with a variety of roles including the overblown and comic Lucy Fisher and the powerful portrayal of Angeliki.
Whether you are familiar with the original novel or not, there is something for everyone in The Beekeeper of Aleppo. Incredibly moving, you would have to have a heart of stone (Hi Suella) to not be moved by this tale of love, loss and perseverance to the basic human need of safety. While theatre at its best can provide escapism, it also has the ability to really hit on important issues that maybe not everybody always understands. That is what The Beekeeper of Aleppo does best – never shying away from the horrors, it isn’t the most comfortable of watches but it is consistently gripping. Beautifully and unapologetically human, this moving and powerful play will stay on your mind long after you leave the theatre.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo continues to tour the UK and Ireland until 1st July. Full dates and tickets from https://www.ukproductions.co.uk/theatre-productions/the-beekeeper-of-aleppo/
Photos by Manuel Harlan