THE BEEKEEPER OF ALEPPO PLAY REVIEW
“The Beekeeper Of Aleppo” is currently playing at Richmond Theatre. It’s an incredibly powerful and timely play, adapted for the stage from the International bestseller written by Christy Lefteri.
At no time in human history have there been more refugees (30 million) and forcibly displaced people (100 million) than there are today according to the UN. The ongoing conflict in Syria alone has produced nearly 7 million refugees and I don’t even want to think about the increase in numbers owing to the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, the war in Ukraine and even more recently the civil war in Sudan.
Live theatre offers a special lens through which to view their trauma by bringing their story to life and exploring the issues raised in the novel; the effects of losing a country, a family, a sense of identity and belonging and the immense difficulty of having to create a new life. It is a powerful tool for positive social change and therefore I think it should be performed in every school and to anyone who thinks Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary has the right approach to dealing with refugees. It is guaranteed to shift social norms and breed some much needed empathy for the plight of those who have lost everything, looking for sanctuary and wanting to tell their real life stories.
This is the story of Nuri and Afra’s journey to England from their home in war-torn Aleppo. The play opens in the south of England, so we know they made it. They are treated badly by a range of officials, who are both patronising and suspicious – talked at, talked down to, shouted at, dismissed, given the wrong paperwork to get an urgent GP appointment and it’s all truly awful to witness.
We see flashbacks to the life they had before the war, where they lived a rich, simple, happy life in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo. We see the family unit and the relationship between Nuri and Afra that was so strong before the unthinkable happens and they are forced to escape.
We are then asked to focus on their terrifying journey and watch them face the trauma of not only their unbearable loss and displacement alongside imminent danger, but also how they have suffered at the hands of inhumane border policies. Ultimately as they consider their marriage and their mental health they must travel to find each other again. Could they overcome the trauma that they had endured? Making it to the UK isn’t the end of their journey.
The play is set in so many different locations, despite there being no physical set changes. Ruby Pugh, the set designer has created a minimal space that acts as a number of homes and then with a brilliantly clever use of film footage, it’s transformed into a broken Aleppo and a raging sea. Their sea voyage in a tiny rubber dinghy, overcrowded with life-jacketed terrified people is very moving. There is also a very clever scene when they are huddled at the back of a lorry with a cow for a long time. Sand is used as a way of showing time passing, shifting and enveloping the spaces and also works as the inside of Nuri’s mind as everything we see or hear is part of Nuri working through his story in order to make sense of it.
Nuri is played admirably by Alfred Clay (I recognised him from Industry), Afra by Roxy Faridany. Mustafa, the cousin is played by Joseph Long and he’s a wonderful character – teaching us a lot of lovely things about bees, community living and nature. The whole cast work well together and a number of them ably play a few different roles, using excellent accents to change their personas (in particular Aram Mardourian who plays Nadim, Fotakis, Ali and other roles and dedicates his performance to his uncles Zareh and Harout, who fled the war in Aleppo).
You couldn’t want for a better name if you are a Sound Designer – Tingying Dong did a brilliant job.
The Beekeeper Of Aleppo is a compassionate and beautiful play – essentially a story of connection between friends, families and strangers. It’s undoubtedly an influential piece of work that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture. Whilst it offers as many questions as answers on “this broken world” and how you can ultimately never lose hope, I would highly recommend that you go and see it.