The Beekeeper of Aleppo began life as a novel by Christy Lefteri in 2019, a fictional tale based on the author’s experience working in refugee camps in Athens. Those same camps feature in this story, as we follow Syrian refugees Nuri and Afra across the Mediterranean, through Europe, to the UK. As yet another refugee crisis strikes in Sudan, and Syria and Turkey have faced further destruction from recent earthquakes, this Nottingham Playhouse production feels apt for the moment as it brings its message on tour around the UK.

Credit: Manuel Harlan

Playwrights Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler are well aware of the pitfalls of the refugee narrative. Stories of crossing an ocean to safety, rather than feeling epic, at their worst can feel exploitative of some of the worst moments a human can face for a cheap pull at the heartstrings. Alrefaai and Spangler avoid many of these pitfalls. Much like the novel on which it is based, this play is a non-linear narrative. This avoids the ‘and then’ that a journey narrative, and particularly a troubled one, can have, often feeling as relentless as the Book of Job. Instead, these traumas are contextualised with their ramifications once Nuri and Afra have reached the UK, as we see that gaining asylum is not the end of their struggle, and understand the emotional ramifications of their journey. This turns the narrative from a simple ‘do they survive?’ to a more nuanced investigation of trauma. The lingering nature of trauma is beautifully crafted in the use of projection on the cloth-laden set by Ruby Pugh, allowing moments to layer over and segue into each other in a way that creates a rich tapestry of experience. Particularly visceral was the depiction of a boat crossing at the end of act one, an especially powerful moment.

With that said, the script does not always feel like it does justice to this complex story, a perennial problem when condensing a novel into two hours of stage time. The writing on the UK asylum system is necessary but heavy-handed, and many of the characters they meet along the way feel underdeveloped. Furthermore, we focus so much on the struggles that Nuri and Afra face that it feels like we miss a real sense of character from them: who they are and the core of their relationship. It feels as though the tight focus of a stage play does this material a disservice, and that perhaps the more expansive original form of the novel suited it better. As a result, we don’t get to know Nuri, Afra or anyone else well enough to truly be immersed in their story, however well-portrayed. On that note, particular kudos must go to Roxy Fariday’s portrayal of the partially blind Afra, however, whose ability to convey emotion without using her sightline is very affecting.

Credit: Manuel Harlan

There is much to be said for The Beekeeper of Aleppo; its message is powerful, and it works hard to show the after-effects of trauma on refugees. Yet without the space to explore character, there will always be a wall of distance between the audience and the emotion that the text seeks to evoke. Perhaps a play written directly for the stage would have solved some problems here; right now, this feels forced into a form that it does not quite fit.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is on at Richmond Theatre until the 6th of May; the show is on a UK tour, find more tour dates here!

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

2 Star Review 3 Star Review 4 Star Review 5 Star Review 2022 2023 Adaptation Almeida Cabaret Camden Fringe Cast Announcement Christmas Comedy Dance Drag Edinburgh Fringe Edinburgh Fringe Interviews Fringe Immersive Interviews Jukebox Musical LGBTQIA+ Lyric Hammersmith Manchester Musical New Musical News New Wimbledon Theatre North West Off West End Park Theatre Play Review Revival Richmond Theatre Round Up Royal Court Theatre Shakespeare Show Announcement Show Recommendations Soho Theatre Southwark Playhouse Touring Production VAULT Festival West End

    The infamous Sh!t Faced Showtime are back in London with a festive edition, they have taken Dickens’ classic and put a drunken spin on it. The formula is the same as other iterations of the Shi!t Faced shows, one member of the cast has been boozing, and this time it is John Milton who plays Scrooge. Before the show, half a bottle of Jim Beam, some wine, and beer have been consumed in the previous 4 hours. The rest of the cast, try to keep the show on track, also aided by James Murfitt as the compere, Charles Dickens. The … More A PISSEDMAS CAROL – REVIEW – LEICESTER SQUARE
    Spine-tingling yet heart-warming, Mark Gatiss’s retelling of A Christmas Carol truly encapsulates the haunting atmosphere of a Victorian ghost story, balanced out with enough humour so as to capture the festive season. Led by Keith Allen as Scrooge, with Peter Forbes as Marley, this show is perfect for Christmas viewing. The set design by Paul Wills is instantly captivating, containing stacks of metal cabinets towering over the theatre, moveable by the cast to allow space for other central props like doors, beds and tables. In addition to this, the puppetry design by Matthew Forbes is incredibly clever, adding creepy elements to the show such … More A CHRISTMAS CAROL – REVIEW – ALEXANDRA PALACE
    The title of this winner of Theatre 503’s 2023 International Playwriting Award by Roxy Cook may seem like the set-up to a joke, but the narrative that unspools is instead an affectionate, gently barbed and at base quite sobering portrait of three ordinary souls (and one restless feline) adrift in modern Moscow. There is much affable, satirical back-and-forth commentary on the accepted myths & stereotypes of the Russian spirit & soul. Beset by the indignities of age, opportunism, graft, fatigue, the characters orbit one another, doomed to play out their roles in an unjust, predatory and saturnine universe. The play opens … More A WOMAN WALKS INTO A BANK – REVIEW – THEATRE503
    Peter Pan Goes Wrong first premiered in London at the Pleasance Theatre in 2013, and earlier this year the show made its Broadway debut. Now the production is back in the West End for the Christmas season. Following on from The Play That Goes Wrong, in this production, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is staged by the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and goes awry, disastrously so. The meta-comedy is filled with slapstick comedy, sometimes the humour may be predictable and silly, but it’s universally funny throughout – there is something for everyone here, and the laughs come thick and fast … More PETER PAN GOES WRONG – REVIEW – LYRIC THEATRE
    Drawing heavily from the classic canon of the British supernatural, HighTide’s trio of contemporary Gothic narratives uses traditional storytelling formats to address contemporary themes. Directed by Elayce Ismail, reverent musical interludes accompany tales of apparitions and nighttime conjurings that speak of women from the East of England. Unfortunately, the effect is less chilling and more lightweight, with conventional structures, predictable plot twists and an over-reliance on external forces to drive narrative shoring up some of the less relatable aspects of the genre. Nicola Werenowska’s The Beach House, perhaps the cleanest of the three tales, tells of a mother and daughter’s … More GHOST STORIES BY CANDLELIGHT – REVIEW – SAM WANAMAKER PLAYHOUSE

Leave a Reply