Do you know what it feels like to hide within yourself to endure?
A choice made by this production of The Beekeeper of Aleppo shows us how escaping into an illusion can protect you at the most crucial moment of your life. And the idea of escapism during traumatic experiences drives this stage version of the much-heralded book by Christy Lefteri.
The story charts the lives of Nuri (Alfred Clay) and Afra (Roxy Faridany). Nuri’s new job of beekeeping with his cousin Mustafa (Joseph Long) in the beautiful city of Aleppo is an inspiring role that allows him to understand the power of closing your eyes to reality. While Nuri is on this journey of discovery, Afri sells her landscape art. The couple are content, creative and grateful. Then war comes and Aleppo is destroyed, and the pair are smoked out of their lives. They are forced into exodus and so follow Mustafa to England. Afra, blinded following a horrifying attack, feels for her husband as Nuri hides from reality and searches for hope within illusions.
Before seeing the play, I hadn’t read the book but I’ll rectify that quickly. Nevertheless, without having turned the novel’s pages, I know that a narrative that swings from past to present is indicative of how your mind navigates trauma. While watching this production, I felt a mind shattered by distress and a manifestation of a crisis point.
And what of theatre as spectacle as well as drama? Under the huge proscenium arches of Liverpool Playhouse, we focused in on a diorama of life almost extinguished; something becoming new and strange.
We saw indicators in an immediate past, house and home-blown to pieces and inflamed, fire-blanketed and choked in sand. Beds and chairs submerged in dunes and patterns like honeycomb, travelling over the cloth-dampened set. And, sweeping across the broken mounds of a now-desolate life were angry bees, keys, broken landscapes, and the engulfing ocean.
Here and there, moments of nature and intimacy were projected. And this, alongside the flashes of the past and the idea that there is no fixed present, is what it feels like to live with trauma. So, I congratulate the direction by Miranda Cromwell and the writers Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler for where they have taken the novel. I was enticed by the spectacle of disaster and immersed in intimate poetic moments.
The production, ending on a long-awaited instance of escapism and comfort, reminded me that a mind that can resist reality in transit from darkness to light is a powerful one.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo is at Liverpool Playhouse until March 11, 2023. For more information on show times and ticket prices, click here.