The play adaption of The Beekeeper of Aleppo took place at Newcastle Theatre Royal on Friday 9 June.
Cast/Performers included: Alfred Clay (Nuri), Roxy Faridany (Afra), Joseph Long (Mustafa), Aram Mardourian (Nadim / Fotakis / Ali), Daphne Kouma (immigration officer / Dr Faruk / Dahab), Nadia Williams (Angeliki / Lucy Fisher), Elham Mahyoub (Mohammed / Sami), Fanos Xenofos, Lily Demir.
There couldn’t have been a more suitable time for this stage version of the famous Beekeeper of Aleppo, a 2019 novel by Christy Lefteri, which examines the reality of the asylum journey from war-torn Syria to Britain.
While the book itself is a work of fiction, it is based on the experience that Lefteri gained over two summers, while volunteering in Athens at a refugee centre.
The story begins in both Syria and in this country.
In Aleppo we see Nuri a beekeeper, who works with his cousin and Afra his wife, who is an artist and how they live a gentle and fulfilling life.
We see Afra embarrassed at the praise her husband is showering on her for her art and they argue gently about cooking.
In Britain their life is very different as Nuri is interrogated about how he got here and why he came here.
He is asked to tell his and his wife’s story, by a cynical Immigration Officer and must deal with a patronising case worker, who is as shallow as the seas they have crossed are deep.
The play: the journey to Britain
The play then tells that story of how Nuri and Afra had come to Britain; how their son had died in the war in Aleppo, how they had argued, but eventually decided to leave what had once been a beautiful city which had been largely razed to the ground and how Nuri was a hunted man.
We also see how Nuri’s cousin has also made his way to Britain, having also lots a son and the difficulties he is facing here.
On the way they meet a small boy, Mohammad, who has lost his parents and for a while he, Nuri and Afra make a family to try and replace what they had all lost in the war back in Syria.
After a difficult sea journey from Turkey, they make it to Greece where they meet other refugees, such as an Afghan whose father had been murdered by the Taliban for being a musician and a woman from Somalia, who had her newborn baby stolen from her in the refugee camp near Athens, while she was asleep.
Eventually they find someone who can arrange their journey to Britain.
When they finally get to Britain, Nuri finds that he is asked ludicrous questions by an Immigration officer and find that the welcome is far from warm and understanding of what they have been through.
Cousin says he is in Yorkshire and got a voluntarily job as beekeeper and that Nuri and Afra can join him.
Here we fully see the significance of Nuri’s work as a beekeeper, that bees pollinate flowers and give life, a metaphor for all they have lost.
Throughout the play, we see Nuri and Afra coping with dangerous people and dangerous seas.
Nuri and his cousin are of course cousins, with a terrible thing in common, as they have both lost a son.
At the end, they finally find some redemption and peace in returning to the lifeforce and life affirming profession of beekeeping in cold, rainy Yorkshire.
Underpinning the dialogue is the sense of what everyone has lost and the pain and grief of those losses.
The physical and mental struggles just to survive.
Coping with world being broken and consequently becoming broken as individuals.
It was by necessity a dark play, but it was not without its humour used cleverly to lighten the mood at strategic points, not least when they are about to make the dangerous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece and Mohammad comes into the story.
The Theatre Royal was almost full for what was a very powerful and moving performance, particularly from Alfred Clay and Roxy Faridnay, but really all the performers were excellent and easily drew me into the story, charting the journey from war-torn Aleppo in Syria to a colder, wetter, and sometimes hostile England.
The timing of the play touring the country could hardly have been more auspicious.
In a week when politicians in this country have used the English Channel crossings as a political football, this was a timely reminder of the moving human stories behind the lurid headlines and that every statistic is a tragedy.
I would recommend the play and the book, to anyone who wants to learn more and think more deeply about the stories behind the headlines.