Leeds Playhouse, Leeds – until Saturday 3 June 2023
Reviewed by Sofia Robottom
This beautiful performance of Christy Lefteri’s poignant novel ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’ was adapted by Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler, also known for adapting the West End and Broadway version of The Kite Runner, a novel that similarly conveys an emotional and unforgettable story following the horrific circumstances that refugees face. This timeless production, directed by Miranda Cromwell, speaks up on social issues while portraying a compassionate narrative that beautifully encapsulates human nature and explores the characters’ relationships and how they grow and develop throughout this incredible journey. There are glimpses of hope throughout, emphasised by subtle and well-delivered humour, which keep the audience invested in the characters’ happy endings.
The actors’ compassionate performances allow the audience to witness the powerful and moving story of a former Beekeeper Nuri (played by Alfred Clay) and his wife Afra (played by Roxy Fairdany) and their heroic yet catastrophic journey, trying to find refuge from the war in Syria after their hometown Aleppo was made inhabitable by brutal bombings. They are forced to leave their entire livelihood behind and dangerously make their way across Turkey and Greece, uncertain of what lies ahead but full of courage and hoping to be reunited with Nuri’s cousin Mustafa, (played by Joseph Long) an enthusiastic and optimistic man who becomes broken by the war and its inconsolable effects on his family. The nonchronological narrative allows shocking information to be withheld and revealed in a way that generates shock value. Flashbacks are scattered throughout the play, creating a disjointed storyline that reflects the impact of traumatic events on memories, also shown by Afra’s deteriorating health. In order to come to terms with the distressing events Nuri and his wife endured while seeking refuge, and to cope with the loss of his son, Nuri creates a character of a young boy who was present throughout their journey. As the couple make their way to the UK, we continue to wonder whether they will not only find asylum in the UK, but also a comfortable life where they can rebuild their relationship.
As new characters were revealed the audience was able to recognise the complex journey of fleeing from war as a refugee. The immigration officer (played by Daphne Kouma) reminds us of the treatment that refugees receive when they arrive in foreign countries and how they are often misunderstood and overlooked by the western world. This brings light to the reality of asylum seekers and the patronising attitudes of those who are supposed to offer support. We also gain insight into the stories of other immigrants for example Angeliki in Athens (played by Nadia Williams) who shares a heart-breaking and powerful anecdote, and the Moroccan man (played by Joseph Long), staying at the same Bed and Breakfast as Nuri and Afra, who takes an interest in British customs.
This production brought a fantastic and visually striking set design as well as stunning effects which tied the performance together brilliantly. Projections of scenery highlighted the beauty and richness of Syria and its beloved city of Aleppo. These visual aids and the dramatic sound effects helped to build an atmosphere and convey the harsh and bleak conditions faced by the refugees, whether it was the aggressiveness of the sea or the picturesque fields. This brilliantly written story also uses the vocabulary of the characters’ own dialect to give a voice to refugees, allowing them to share their culture and stories. The extended metaphor of the bees working in harmony brought Nuri hope throughout the play, and despite the reluctance of others to offer their help and the horrendous circumstances he is thrown into; Nuri finds a way to remain hopeful.
This deeply moving narrative demonstrates the reality of those seeking asylum and its authentic performance has the ability to move its spectators to tears. It is an outstanding production that is not to be missed and the unforgettable and sentimental story it tells will leave a lasting impression on its audience.