The Beekeeper of Aleppo
Adapted by Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler from the novel by Christy Lefteri
Nottingham Playhouse in association with Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and UK Productions Ltd
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Ten years after the première of The Kite Runner, one of Nottingham Playhouse’s most successful productions, the theatre looks destined to repeat that success with its latest offering, The Beekeeper of Aleppo.
The Kite Runner, Matthew Spangler’s adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s novel, played to more than 20,000 people in Nottingham. It toured the UK, had two seasons in London’s West End and transferred to the Helen Hayes Theater on Broadway in 2022. It is to go on a North American tour in 2024.
Now Spangler and Nesrin Alrefaai have got together to adapt Christy Lefteri’s bestseller The Beekeeper of Aleppo. It seems odd that kite runners and beekeepers can be the subject of a play, but as stage productions, both work incredibly well.
When reviewing The Kite Runner, I wrote that the play proved that relationship problems could be the same whatever your race or colour and it portrayed Afghanistan in a totally new light. The same can be said for The Beekeeper of Aleppo which spotlights the horrors and inhumanities of the war in Syria.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo starts with a Syrian couple, Nuri and Afra, trying to adapt to their new life in the south of England after leaving their homeland because it was no longer safe. We realise they have completed their journey to the UK, so the script concentrates on the ordeal they experience. They face rejection, discrimination, accusations of being terrorists and deplorable living conditions.
Alfred Clay gives an outstanding performance as Nuri, the beekeeper who has lost everything before starting his search for a new life. When his attempts to get to safety are continually thwarted, he disappears into himself. Clay presents us with a mentally scarred man who is so traumatised that he blocks out everything—even the love of his wife.
Roxy Faridany is similarly striking as Afra, blinded when a bomb went off in her garden. She resists the temptation to retreat into herself, proving that she is the stronger of the two in the relationship and is more determined to protect what they have despite all the changes they have to face.
There is real tenderness between the couple when they confront the problems that have arisen in their relationship.
There are solid displays by all nine cast members, although Joseph Long catches the eye as Nuri’s cousin Mustafa, who ends up being a beekeeper in Yorkshire, and Elham Mayhoub as orphan Mohammed, who latches on to the couple while they are in a camp for refugees.
Miranda Cromwell, fresh from being in charge of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman on Broadway, directs with sensitivity and flair, making good use of Ruby Pugh’s set. That cleverly depicts everything from war-torn Syria to the cramped boat on which refugees make a hazardous ocean crossing.
Excellence abounds throughout the creative team of The Beekeeper of Aleppo, especially film designer Ravi Deepres who produces evocative projections including harrowing scenes of the devastation in Syria.
Nottingham Playhouse is definitely on another winner with The Beekeeper of Aleppo which deserves to be just as successful as The Kite Runner.
Reviewer: Steve Orme