Voyages of Asylum
“All you can hear at night are the cries of the lonely and grief stricken.”
We lost our bees, let us see if we can save our children.
“Where there are bees, there is hope.”
Christy Lefteri’s 2019 best selling novel The Beekeeper of Aleppo was written after she worked at a camp in Athens for refugees. The stage version now touring is directed by Miranda Cromwell and adapted by Nesrin Alreaai, and Matthew Spangler who adapted The Kite Runner which went to Broadway.
The book and the play are narrated by Nuri (Alfred Clay) who lived in Aleppo with his wife Afra (Roxy Faridany) and son. He takes great joy in being trained to keep bees by his cousin Mustafa (Joseph Long). Afra is an artist and their life in the beautiful city of Aleppo is idyllic until the war. Nuri witnesses a child and his mother being shot and decides he must leave Syria.
As the book is written switching back and forth from Aleppo to asylum grillings in England using the same set, there are problems in always knowing where we are. The heaps of sand may work well for Syria but the incongruous winged armchair set into a pile of sand isn’t anywhere I could recognise.
What the play does exceptionally well is to place us in the shoes of someone so terrified for his life and that of his family that he has to leave his home and occupation to make a dangerous journey sometimes at the hands of people smugglers.
We see Nuri on arrival at the port in the UK where Immigration Officers ask him non-stop questions. We switch back to Aleppo with projected shadows of bees and people holding smoke canisters to calm the bees. Afra is losing her sight. In the UK Nuri has a caseworker to help with his claim for asylum, but registering at a GP is refused because they are living in a Bed and Breakfast so Afra has difficulty getting medical help.
There are terrible scenes of destruction in Syria, again using projections of photographs of buildings that are now rubble. People are shot, building are set fire to and the hive of bees is destroyed by fire, “the bees burnt to a crisp”.
The scene is projected red as they travel out of Aleppo to the Syrian Turkish border in great danger. The next part of their path is in Istanbul, where they hear by email from Mustafa who is himself travelling to England, through Macedonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria and France.
While waiting for the boat to Greece, Nuri meets a child Mohammed (Elham Mahyoub) who appears to be travelling alone. There is a terrible storm and the stage is all projected waves. Eventually Nuri and Afra get to Athens but the boy has disappeared.
There are more back story revelations of trauma and hurt including when Afra’s eyesight suddenly deteriorated and Yuri’s mental health suffered. The performances are good. Although sometimes difficult to follow, The Beekeeper of Aleppo engages at an emotional level reminding us all of the humanity of migrants.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo
Adapted by Matthew Spangler and Nesrin Alrefaai
from the novel by Christy Lefteri
Directed by Miranda Cromwell
Director: Miranda Cromwell
Designer: Ruby Pugh
Composer: Elaha Soroor
Lighting Designer:Ben Ormerod
Sound Designer: Tingying dong
Film Designer: Ravi Deepres
Running Time: Two hours 20 minutes including an interval
Booking at Richmond to 6th May 2023
Then Touring to Norwich, Cambridge, Coventry,
1 Little Green
Tube/Rail : Richmond
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at Richmond Theatre
on 2nd May 2023