Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Miranda Cromwell: The Beekeeper Of Aleppo

By | Published on Friday 28 April 2023

I read ‘The Beekeeper Of Aleppo’ by Christy Lefteri some years ago and was profoundly affected by it.

So it’s no wonder, really, that my ears pricked up when I heard that a touring adaptation of the novel would be calling at Richmond Theatre. 

The play was adapted from the novel by Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler, and the tour of it is a co-production from Nottingham Playhouse, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, and UK Productions.  

To find out more about the play and the creative team behind it, I spoke to director Miranda Cromwell. 

CM: Can you start by telling us about the narrative of ‘The Beekeeper Of Aleppo’? What story does it tell? 
MC: Nuri is a beekeeper, his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo – until the unthinkable happens.

When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape. On their terrifying journey, they must face the pain of their own unbearable loss, alongside incredible danger.

Above all, they must journey to find each other again.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
MC: War, displacement, grief and love, what it means to lose everything. It also deals with how Britain treats people fleeing war.

The story is an exploration of survival against all odds, encouraging the audience to imagine themselves in a situation where they have to start their life again in a foreign land.

I also hope that people who come to see the play will think about how they treat and talk about refugees and asylum seekers. 

CM: It’s based on the book of the same name, of course – does it aim to be a faithful adaptation? 
MC: Christy who wrote the novel was very involved in discussions with Nesrin and Matthew who adapted it. The play is very faithful to the book, although condensing such a large novel into a play throws up some challenges.

There are changes, edits and additions. We also brought more elements of Syrian culture and language into the play. 

CM: Can you tell us more about the playwrights who adapted it? 
MC: Nesrin Alrefaai – co-playwright and cultural consultant – is a postdoctoral researcher and has her own experience as a Syrian woman navigating the UK immigration system.

Also, she has worked with Syrian refugees in London as a community support officer, and has been volunteering since 2015 as an Arabic language interpreter for refugees and asylum-seekers at a law centre. 

Matthew Spangler – co-playwright – who also adapted ‘The Kite Runner’ for stage amongst other plays, is a university professor who writes scholarly articles and teaches courses about how refugees and asylum-seekers are represented through the arts, a subject he has been working on since 2004. 

CM: What made you want to direct this play? Can you tell us something about your approach to staging it? 
MC: I loved the book and I loved how Nesrin and Matthew translated it into this play. At its core I thought it was an incredibly moving story of survival and love. I was drawn to the fractured nature of the storytelling, how it follows Nuri’s mental state and so is not told in a linear way.

The theatrical nature of the imagery, music and soundscape that was needed to tell this story made me believe it would be very moving on stage. My approach has been very collaborative and a large part of its success lies in the work of the incredible creative team. 

CM: Can you tell us about the cast of the play? 
MC: They are an extraordinarily talented ensemble of actors led beautifully by Alfred Clay and Roxy Faridany.

The rest of the cast play multiple roles with such skill and charm: Joseph Long, Aram Mardourian, Daphne Kouma, Nadia Williams, Elham Mahyoub, Fanos Xenofós and Lily Demir have all given their hearts to this production and were a joy to work with. 

CM: And now can you tell us about yourself? How did you come to be working in the theatre and how did your career begin? 
MC: I always loved to be in groups of people expressing creativity and making performance, as a child I did dance and gymnastics.

I soon discovered I much preferred to be behind the scenes helping to bring all the elements of performance together.

I did a lot of teaching at Bristol Old Vic, putting on shows with their young company and became the young company director there for many years.

Then I branched out into making my own professional work and assisting many brilliant directors. 

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far? 
MC: Staging Winsome Pinnock’s ‘Rockets And Blue lights’ at the National Theatre, it was such a vital and brave piece of writing.

The entire journey of ‘Death Of A Salesman’, from co-directing it with Marianne Elliott at the Young Vic and in the West End, to directing solo on Broadway.

I am very close with the casts and teams of both those shows and ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’. Such wonderful human beings: making such powerful work with them has enriched my life.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
MC: I would love to keep making theatre. However, the industry is fragile and being a freelance director is financially and emotionally really tough.

My hopes and ambitions for the future are that I can continue to direct life affirming and moving theatre in new writing, classic plays and musicals. I am also developing my skills as an audio and film director. 

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this? 
MC: I am very excited to be directing the UK premiere of ‘Mlima’s Tale’ by Lynn Nottage at the Kiln Theatre in September. A beautiful and haunting play that explores a murder and its afterlife. An unforgettable story of the ivory trade and its corruption. 

‘The Beekeeper Of Aleppo’ is on at Richmond Theatre from 2-6 May. For more information and to book tickets, see this page here.

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