Beekeeper of Aleppo Lands for Short Stint in Dublin

by James Hendicott
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The modern history of the city of Aleppo, which sat at the heart of one of the most devastatingly brutal assaults of the war in Syria, is still unravelling to some degree.

Syria’s second city, a desert corner that was home to in excess of two million people before finding itself at the heart of a startlingly crushing attack, has, it’s fair to say, more than two million different stories.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo, a 2019 book by Christy Lefteri based on time spent in a refugee camp in Athens, perhaps captured the imagination of the public in relation to the city in a greater way than any news report. Centred on the family of Nuri, the titular beekeeper, and his wife Afra, the book explores an idyllic family life broken by war, and the family’s subsequent fleeing to the UK.

Given the current narrative around refugees and asylum, then, this might seem a political text, but lead actor Alfred Clay, who plays Nuri in the Nottingham Playhouse Production of the text that’s coming to Dublin this month, insists otherwise. “Of course, we live our lives in that context,” Clay says of the political side, “but we don’t want to turn the text into a political thing. It’s more about family, the story isn’t political unless you make that leap yourself.”

The family dynamic, of course, is shaken in the story, as Nuri – played by Alfred – struggles to adapt to new life and finds his relationship with Afra deteriorating.

In fact Clay, a young actor who has come to this kind of stage production through the Royal Shakespeare Company and the traditional performances they espouse, has been most impressed with the work that’s gone into the family dynamic around the stage set up. “I feel like we’ve worked hard to make the family side believable,” he says. “There have been a lot of activities specifically for that. At first it’s difficult to portray, but as we’ve moved on, it’s felt more and more like a family dynamic. It’s a very close-knit cast.”

The book adaptation, though, particularly impressed Clay. “Of course we all read it before we started,” he says. “It needs to be changed so it can be performed on a single stage, which is always a challenge. I like a particular part of the adaptation, where Nuri is asked how he’s found moving to the UK, and what’s difficult for him. In the book, his answer is about a page long. In the play, it’s reduced to just three words: ‘it’s safe here’. That seems to sum it up.”

The early runs of the play, which is now touring the UK and Dublin for stints of a few days in each location, saw extended runs in places like Liverpool where it had the chance to bed in. Now, Clay explains, the harder part of it all is the travel. “The actual acting is easy now,” he laughs. “The admin around it – things like hotels – that’s the most challenging part for me. I’m still getting used to it, and we get a bit of extra support in Dublin as it’s outside the UK.”

Detail on the play, which features a dynamic backdrop of video attempting to capture the extensive challenges of a refugee’s journey as well as actual footage from the war in Syria – a jarring component – bring this performance to life in a way that Clay describes as “clever and dynamic.” Fans of the book, a massive number one bestseller, then, are certain to be hugely taken with this Nesrin Alrefaai stage adaptation.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is showing at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, from the time of print until April 15. Tickets start at €21.50.

Dublin Gazette – Digital Edition – April 13, 2023 – Dublin Gazette Newspapers – Dublin News, Sport and Lifestyle – CLICK ON LINK TO READ MORE IN THIS WEEKS DIGITAL EDITION

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