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The Beekeeper of Aleppo (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Society: Nottingham Playhouse (professional)

Venue: Nottingham Playhouse. Wellington Circus, Nottingham NG1 5AF

Credits: Adapted for the stage by Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler. From the acclaimed novel by Christy Lefteri. Presented by Nottingham Playhouse in association with Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and UK Productions Ltd.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo

4 stars

The cast of The Beekeeper of Aleppo (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

It’s every inch a story for our times. I thought that when I read Christy Lefteri’s bestselling novel in 2019 and this play, which is pretty faithful to the book, hammers that home with gentle, heart-wrenching power.

Nuri (Alfred Clay) and his wife  Afra (Roxy Faridany) have arrived, both acutely damaged mentally, in the south of England where they are lodged in a shared house  on the coast while they await the outcome of their asylum application. Gradually – mostly through Nury’s dramatic memories – we learn about the tragic loss of their young son in a bombing raid in their native Aleppo and the horrors of the journey and obstacles they faced in their attempts to get to the UK.

Bees are a metaphor for community life. Nuri and his cousin Mustafa (Joseph Long),who has arrived in Yorkshire, have kept bees in Syria. They want to do the same in Britain.

Clay is a fine actor. He gives us a man who is so deeply traumatised that he’s delusional – worried, loving, in denial and, often sardonically witty. Faridany, whose character has  lost her sight as part of post-traumatic stress disorder, brings plenty of anxiety, depression and, eventually warmth both in marriage and friendship.

The cast is gloriously diverse and bring plenty of experience of real life immigration stories to their roles. They are also all strong and work seamlessly together with a lot of multi role-ing. Long, for example, is powerful as the stalwart Mustafa and ruefully funny as a house mate in the south coast refugee house. And there’s lovely work from Nadia Williams as a Brummie official, a bossy nurse and a mystic African woman who befriends Afra in Athens, among other roles.

Ruby Pugh’s imaginative set gives us sand dunes with a bed, a chair and a trap door which connotes every possible place that Yuri and Afra find themselves in. But the real star of this show is Ravi Deprees’s film design which projects onto perforated gauzey screens at the back giving us bees in a hive. At other times he uses moving film to evoke very effectively a small boat in a storm, a ride in the back of a lorry with a cow and much more.

I watched this two hour play (plus 20-minute interval)  for the first three quarters of it, deeming  this §§ a perfectly decent 3-star show. Then the last fifteen minutes moved this hard-bitten critic to tears so she decided it had earned a fourth star.


First published by Sardines:


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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