The Beekeeper of Aleppo

“A necessary story showing the common human goal, to survive”.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a staged adaptation of the 2019 best selling novel by Christy Lefteri. Although a work of fiction, it is based on the author’s experience whilst working for two summers at a refugee camp in Athens.

Directed by Miranda Cromwell, the play tells the story of Nuri, a beekeeper from Aleppo and his artist wife, Afra.

Once living a simple life in the Syrian city of Aleppo, their lives are drastically affected by the outbreak of war. This traumatic event accompanies them on their journey to England, following in the footsteps of Nuri’s cousin, and fellow beekeeper, Mustafa.

The simple yet effective stage design (by Ruby Pugh) transports us through the stages of the journey from Aleppo. We visit refugee camps and cross seas;  brought to life with lighting design by Ben Ormerod, sound design by Tingying Dong and film design from Ravi Deepres; additionally creating tension in capturing the relentless fear refugees face during this perilous journey. Further staging success is found through the use of a trapdoor hidden within honeycomb shaped rocks, depicting shelter from the attacks the protagonists face in their home, with video footage used effectively here to provide a moment’s light relief from the harrowing narrative at the piece’s core. 

Having seen this production earlier in the run at the considerably smaller Liverpool Playhouse, I was intrigued to see how the staging would stand on the once stated “largest stage in the UK outside of London.”

Although the use of projections enriched the narrative, the sheer size of the stage at The Lyric sometimes felt overpowering- to the detriment of the set. It begs the question- might this have been better suited to the smaller space of The Quays theatre at the venue? 

The ensemble cast do a fantastic job, with particular credit going to Alfred Clay (Nuri) and Roxy Faridany (Afra) for their effortless onstage connection and their ability to step between the stages of their relationship as the story switches seamlessly between past and present. Faridany’s subtle ease in showing the physical difference pre and post war for Afra is captivating; particularly in Act 2- with the after affects of her own personal trauma- but no spoilers here. Elham Mahyoub takes on multiple roles, though her bold portrayal of Sami perfectly encompasses the naivety of a young child and a mind not yet affected by the trauma in their life. Joseph Long brings light comic relief in his multiple character portrayals, helping to balance out some of the heavier themes depicted.

This adaption for the stage by Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler perfectly shows just one of the stories that people continue to face in the struggle to escape war and the effects trauma can have in its various forms.

Importantly, this play comes at a time where privilege is often unaccounted for and people sometimes choose to ignore those needing help through no fault of their own. At times, I felt uncomfortable. Stereotypes were used to depict British society and their treatment of refugees coming to “steal our jobs” and the disconnect people have when faced with people from different backgrounds that they can’t relate to. I hope that the themes explored in this play impact its audience and evoke thoughts about how all people should be treated- as humans, merely trying to survive.

This show was reviewed on the 18th April 2023.  The Beekeeper of Aleppo runs at The Lowry, Salford until the 22nd April 2023.  Tickets available here: The Beekeeper of Aleppo | What's On | The Lowry

Review written by Lee Gregory

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