20 June 2023
Human migration is a subject which is barely out of the news. Displaced people, the result of war, oppression or natural disasters is a modern tragedy with many of those seeking sanctuary and a new life never making it to a place of salvation. Treacherous journeys are undertaken and once at the other end the prospect of rejection and deportation looms large. ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’ by Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler, based on Christy Lefteri’s 2019 book tells such a tale.
Nuri and his cousin Mustafa are beekeepers and sell the honey to keep their respective families. Nuri and his wife Afra live a good life with their son Sami in Aleppo – until war destroys everything they have. Left without any option, they must leave Syria; following Mustafa to the UK. The journey is long, dangerous and complete with many frustrations as they cross borders; along the way revelations of their family life are revealed.
The beautifully realised set of sand dunes – with partly submerged furniture – offers a back drop for superb video projections which bring rushing water, visions of war torn landscapes and bees at work to life. Designer Ruby Pugh and film designer Ravi Deepres work in harmony to offer stunning visuals.
Likewise, the atmospheric music from Elaha Soroor and sound from Tingying Dong send shivers up your spine and conjour up the life and culture depicted. Ben Ormerod provides a palate of lighting to complement all set before the audience.
Alfred Clay as Nuri is thoroughly engaging as he narrates the story; a performance offering warmth, emotion and vulnerability. Roxy Faridany is a fragile, damaged and gentle Afra; while Joseph Long imbues Mustafa with a great humanity and humour – a humour which is also found in his portrayal of the Moroccan Man who loves the English slang word ‘geezer’ – a very funny and fun performance. Elham Mahyoub creates a wonderfully mischievous Mohammed and Nadia Williams is impressive as the displaced Angeliki. The whole company offer a parade of well-formed characterisations, even in the smallest roles.
It is the character of Mustafa who philosophises on the subject of the bees and how they live such an ordered life – compared with the chaos on humanity – and there is an undeniable ecological angle to the play; the dependence of bees on the natural order of things and the importance they have for mankind. It isn’t a message writ large, but it is there.
Crossing waters in a tiny boat; the lack of compassion from immigration officials; the devastation of family loss; the reconciliation of relatives; the work of Non-Governmental Organisations; the start of a new life: all elements of the story of ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’. Director Miranda Cromwell directs with such clarity that the important issues are never subsumed by fancy staging, the story is everything and this is achieved in full measure.
This understated but involving and beautiful story is brought to life in a lucid and engaging production which pulls no punches, but entertains and informs. A play with relevance and power for yesterday, today and tomorrow.
CAST & CREATIVES
ALFRED CLAY – NURI
LILY DEMIR – NGO WORKER, WOMAN BY THE SEA
ROXY FARIDANY – AFRA
DAPHNE KOUMA – IMMIGRATION OFFICER, DR FARUK, DAHAB
JOSEPH LONG – MUSTAFA, MOROCCAN MAN
ELHAM MAHYOUB – MOHAMMED/SAMI
ARAM MARDOURIAN – NADIM, FOTAKIS, ALI
NADIA WILLIAMS – ANGELIKI, LUCY FISHER
FANOS XENOFOS – NEIL, IMMIGRATION OFFICER
WRITER – CHRISTY LEFTERI
ADAPTATION BY – NESRIN ALREFAAI, MATTHEW SPANGLER
CULTURAL CONSULTANT – NESRIN ALREFAAI
DIRECTOR – MIRANDA CROMWELL
DESIGNER – RUBY PUGH
LIGHTING DESIGN – BEN ORMEROD
SOUND DESIGN – TINGYING DONG
FILM DESIGN – RAVI DEEPRES
COMPOSER – ELAHA SOROOR
IMAGE – MANUEL HARLAN
A NOTTINGHAM PLAYHOUSE PRODUCTION