Review The Beekeeper of Aleppo, New Theatre by Charlotte Hall

Going into this production, I had great expectations for it, because I read the book a few months back and it was so hard to put the book down! You went on an emotional rollercoaster and felt like you experienced it with the characters, like you knew what it was like to go through that because Christy Lefteri is a brilliant writer.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is an account of a Syrian couple’s dangerous journey to the UK, as their country is undergoing a civil war. It portrays a lot of harrowing events, including the loss of their son and Nuri’s memory is unreliable, as he remembers something different to what actually happened, or what his wife said happened.

The staff at New Theatre, Cardiff were friendly, approachable, and knowledgeable, and we had a drink voucher, so I got a cappuccino before it started, and it was delicious. The atmosphere in the theatre was excitable and the staff were very helpful and wanted to talk about it with us, so it was great before going in. They put on easy listening music when we sat in the theatre and they released the safety curtain a few minutes before it started, so we got a great picture of the set beforehand.

There was a cloth used as a wall (which was brought down close to the end of the show), two windows and an open door, they used multiple sand dunes, a bed (which was used in multiple settings; an actual bed, a place for Nuri and Afra to sit in the back of a van, and the boat crossing the border from Turkey, I believe) and there was an armchair embedded in one of the sand dunes. There was also part of a door by the chair, and it was used later on as a trapdoor, and they projected a clip of the actors being in the trapdoor, onto the back of the ‘wall’ of the set.

They used technology very well in the piece. They used lighting effectively to show when Nuri was talking to the audience, narrating, and they used Greek/ Arabic music at significant moments in the piece. They used the ‘wall’ to project all sorts of things for symbolism or just for you to visualise the scene, so they used an eye to represent Afra being blind from trauma and Nuri who was metaphorically blind, they used it to show bees, they used it when the characters were on the boat, and the sea was projected on the ‘wall’ as well as over the sand dunes.

When Mustafa (who’s Nuri’s cousin) was explaining to him what to do when the bees get angry, which was to become a tree, at one with nature, and he put his hands over his face, Nuri did it, and the cast came on with jackets that were evocative of bees, which was clever. At the end the whole cast came on, looked at their hands and put it over their faces as well which was a lovely and wholesome moment. At the end, when Nuri and Afra were on the beach, there was no accompaniment, or anything else, which was very effective and emotive.

The only difference between the actor playing Mustafa and the character in the bed and breakfast in the UK was one wore a bobble hat, and so the transitions between past and present were not entirely clear.

All in all, there were lots of lovely moments in the performance and they used technology very well to help the audience with visualisation, but I didn’t feel the theatre production came across the same way as the book did, and I didn’t feel very emotionally invested in their journey this time.

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