East AngliaReview

The Beekeeper of Aleppo– Theatre Royal, Norwich

Reviewer: Lu Greer

Writer: Christy Lefteri
Adaptors: Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler
Director: Miranda Cromwell

Christy Lefteri’s bestselling 2019 novel The Beekeeper of Aleppo, adapted now for a stage production, tells the story of beekeeper Nuri and his wife Afra’s journey from war-torn Syria to England and their harrowing ordeal along the way. The narrative explores the various struggles they face and aims to shine a light on the genuine struggles of refugees.

Nuri, played by Alfred Clay, is a bereaved father who struggles to hold everything together for himself and his wife without allowing himself to experience his own emotions. Clay walks this line well, creating a Nuri who is distant and struggling while still creating a gentle chemistry with Roxy Faridany’s Afra. It is perhaps a shame that Faridany doesn’t have more of a central role in the story as she creates a compelling and interesting Afra, alas this is of course the nature of a play adapted from a first-person narrative. It must certainly be noted that Faridany gives a masterclass in performing as a blind character, and is so believable that her first scene portraying an earlier version of herself as a sighted person is initially rather startling; she is a joy to watch.

The centre stage of this story is the journey itself, full of references to The Odyssey and with the original book being styled similarly, and is less a complete narrative and more a series of evocative scenes some of which only occur in Nuri’s mind. While the moments themselves are certainly compelling, it makes things feel disjointed in a manner which gives the audience little grounding for a genuine emotional investment with the characters. During the show, we encounter people smugglers, perilous sea crossings, violent gangs and a litany of other dangers but they have a tendency to be just touched upon in fleeting moments; while the audience is aware of the perils refugees face in such a situation, here it feels more like we’re just being pointed at each issue for a moment without exploring them.

The staging doesn’t particularly help with this disconnect, relying heavily on video projections to create bee hives, stormy seas, and more. While it allows for more visuals aside from the multipurpose sets it doesn’t feel as though it adds to the play.

The dialogue is certainly the strong point here; with the rapid delivery and graphic descriptions we are given far more in the words than we ever are with the visuals of the piece as they paint a picture of a traumatised man struggling to hold on.

This show has a lot of potential to bring to the fore the refugee experience, and to give a raw and emotional experience to an audience who have been fortunate enough to have only experienced it through a television screen. While the performances are undeniably strong and Alfred Clay really does give his all to the role, and while the words are beautiful, we never get a chance to know the characters well enough for a real emotional impact.

Runs Until: 13 May 2023

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The South East team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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