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The Beekeeper of Aleppo at Richmond Theatre

In March 2011, Syrian security forces opened fire on a pro-democracy demonstration in the southern town of Deraa, killing several protesters and injuring many more. It was a heinous act that touched off what is now known as the Syrian Civil War, a war that left hundreds of thousands dead, destroyed the infrastructure of Syrian towns and cities and resulted in the world’s largest refugee crisis.

Alfred Clay & Elham Mahyoub in The Beekeeper of Aleppo. Photographer Manuel Harlan.
Alfred Clay & Elham Mahyoub in The Beekeeper of Aleppo. Photographer Manuel Harlan.

As we now bear witness to 2023 as the age of the refugee, there is no more poignant statement of the plight of the asylum seeker than Nesrin Alreaai and Matthew Spangler’s stage-adaptation of Christy Lefteri’s best-selling book, The Beekeeper of Aleppo.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo vibrates its buzz around two fictitious Syrian characters, Nuri (Alfred Clay) and his wife Afra (Roxy Faridany), an accomplished painter who’s lost her sight following an unspeakable trauma. They are a harmonious couple enjoying the simple, but bountiful, pleasures of life in pre-war Syria: its tastes, colours, smells, vibrancy, but especially its sense of community and pleasing relationships with family, children and friends. Nuri and Afra speak of their young son, Sami, who never appears.

Nuri, along with his cousin Mustafa (Joseph Long), is a beekeeper and oh what a joyous task it is for both men, until the war begins and their lives become untenable; either the cousins will be killed by invading marauders, or forced to join a group of terrorists who would have them kill children, neighbours, and friends. Then, in the black of night, someone sets fire to their beehive, killing three generations of bees. Mustafa is devastated and flees Syria.

In the blackened ash, Nuri finds one bee alive. It’s a sign he and Afra can also endure in spite of danger and hardship, but not in the fires of war which is now their homeland.

There is no choice but to leave Syria and hope they will survive elsewhere.

As the play opens, Nuri and Afra are living in a seaside town in England. Nuri is being cross-examined by an unseen official from the UK Home Office. The voice of the official crackles with suspicion, as if Nuri exaggerates the perils of life in Syria only to be granted refugee status in Britain. As a final resort, Nuri asks the official to hear the back story of events that forced him and Afra to flee their homeland. His story does not flow easily but with Director Miranda Cromwell’s deft hand we stay the course and live it with him

What makes The Beekeeper of Aleppo so extraordinary are not the perils that await the couple on their voyage to the UK – the shady characters who ask for extortionate sums of money; the dangers at border crossings; nor the threat of drowning in a rubber dinghy. What stands out are the amazing visual effects (Ravi Deepres) that spill from a backdrop screen, at times threatening to swallow the audience and the dinghy captives in a monstrous sea, or with panoramic interviews of glib government ministers, or reams of silk-like endless desert and – in Afra’s memory, – seas of flowers undulating in a Syrian breeze.

And the flowers bring us back to Nuri’s beekeeper cousin Mustafa who says: “I found beekeepers in England. Where there are bees there is life and there is hope.”

The audience gave the actors a rapturous standing ovation. Go see it and you will, too.

4 stars

Review by Loretta Monaco

Nuri is a beekeeper, his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo – until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape. On their terrifying journey, they must face the pain of their own unbearable loss alongside incredible danger. Above all, they must journey to find each other again. This compassionate and beautiful play is a story o f connection – between friends, families, and strangers.

Winner of the Aspen Words Award, Runner up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and one of The Times top three bestselling books of 2020, Christy Lefteri’s best-selling novel has its world premiere in a brand new adaptation by Nesrin Alrefaai, and Matthew Spangler who adapted The Kite Runner. The production is directed by Olivier Award winning Miranda Cromwell (Death of a Salesman – Young Vic, Piccadilly Theatre, and Broadway).

From the producers behind the hugely successful West End and Broadway stage adaptation of The Kite Runner.
In the midst of war, he found love
In the midst of darkness, he found courage
In the midst of tragedy, he found hope.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is at Richmond Theatre from Tuesday 2nd May, 2023 to Saturday 6th May, 2023.

View all shows booking now at Richmond Theatre.

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