Review: The Beekeeper of Aleppo, New Theatre, Cardiff

Andy Howells reviews the stage adaptation of the Beekeeper of Aleppo which runs at New Theatre, Cardiff from March 28 until April 1, 2023

As far as drama goes Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler’s stage adaptation of Christy Lefteri’s acclaimed novel, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is as immersive as it is compelling.

The touring production which is at Cardiff’s New Theatre until April 1st tells the story of beekeeper Nuri, and his artist wife, Afra. The pair flee the Syrian City of Aleppo when their simple life, rich in family and friends, is destroyed by war. Arriving in England as refugees and with Afra blinded, Nuri is asked by the Immigration officer to recall his journey from Aleppo to British shores via dangerous seas and encounters with criminals. As the story of Nuri and Afra’s journey unfolds , they not only face the pain of their unbearable loss, but also need to reignite their love for each other.

Featuring Ruby Pugh’s cleverly designed set that looks like it’s been built around a sand dune, the combination of strategically placed seats, a cupboard door and bed are utilised well as the narrative switches across Europe between Syria, Athens and England. Projections of bees, silhouettes, cityscapes, sea waves enhance movement as the narrative progresses (particularly effective at the climax of Act One when several characters embark on a precarious journey by boat).

  • The cast of The Beekeeper of Aleppo: L-R – top row – Alfred Clay, Roxy Faridany, Joseph Long, Aram Mardourian bottom row – Daphne Kouma, Nadia Williams, , Elham Mahyoub, Fanos Xenofós, Lily Demir

I frequently found the story moving, reflecting loss and violence In places, but frequently with an unbeaten underlying sense of strength and a spirit . Alfred Clay’s Nuri is determined and strong as he is fragile, while Roxy Faridany’s Afra is vulnerable, but determined. Both actors reflect the couples pain beautifully and you really want them to succeed and come through strong by the climax.

Joseph Long lends strong support in several roles including Nuri’s cousin Mustafa and a Moroccan Man who arrives in the UK and refers to everybody as “Geezer”. I really enjoyed his appearances which in some scenes involved very quick changes. There were also touching performances from Nadia Williams as Angeliki and Elham Mahyoub as Mohammed. On the whole though, the ensemble cast did an awesome job of keeping the story moving while spreading themselves across several roles.

There is much imagery within the story, and I particularly found the image of a bee losing its home alongside the people of Syria losing theirs extremely moving. The Beekeeper of Aleppo challenges our thinking and is very real as it is beautifully portrayed.

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