Alfred Clay in The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Thousands of people have seen their once safe homes unexpectedly torn apart in recent years, a human tragedy of gargantuan scale: The Beekeeper of Aleppo tells the story of one couple’s journey from Syria to England.

Christy Lefteri’s book was in part inspired by stories she was told while volunteering at a refugee camp, with elements of the tale of Nuri and his wife Afra’s exodus based on true stories.

Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler’s stage adaptation follows the book’s episodic nature, starting with the couple’s arrival at Heathrow and telling of their past lives and travels through a series of flashbacks.

This is partly responsible for the lack of tension in the first half of what should be a highly-charged production; while there are shocking moments after the interval, the early parts bumble along without much form.

The supporting portrayals of fellow refugees, aid workers, and bureaucrats are mostly shallow caricatures, with the exception of Joseph Long’s unnamed Moroccan man who brings humour but also gentle humanity to his portrayal.

Roxy Faridany, Alfred Clay and Joseph Long in The Beekeeper of Aleppo
Roxy Faridany, Alfred Clay and Joseph Long in The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Alfred Clay as Nuri and Roxy Faridany as Afra don’t much to get their teeth into initially, but show much more dramatic prowess as Nuri’s inner world comes crashing out at the very end. The lack of foreshadowing in Miranda Cromwell’s direction, while perhaps reflecting Nuri’s own delusions, means the heart of the story – meant to be the impact on the couple rather than the journey itself – is rather rushed.

Ruby Pugh’s design makes some effective use of projection to deal with rapid scene changes, but it feels like it this could have been braver: the brief use of some pre-recorded footage and a sudden shift to the set towards the end hints at unexploited ideas.

There is a powerful story here, but also wasted potential.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday, May 13 2023 then Cambridge Arts Theatre from Tuesday, May 16 to Saturday, May 20 2023.