Initially, Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story tells a depressingly familiar tale of refugees, forced to flee their country, attempting to build a new life in a new land. For playwright Hannah Moscovitch however, the story is far more personal. For our protagonists Chaya (Mary Fay Coady) and Chaim (Dani Oore) are Moscovitch’s great-grandparents, ensuring that Moscovitch has an intimate comprehension of not only the sense of alienation experienced by newly arrived immigrants, but also the cultural traditions of her Romanian-Jewish relatives. The latter knowledge in particular serves to inform a highly musical production that deftly flits between comedy and tragedy whilst remaining entertaining throughout.
The play begins in the year 1908, when Chaya and Chaim arrive in
The narrative itself is clearly hardly revolutionary, though what sells it is the presentation. Songs are interspersed throughout the story, each one either performed in the style of the Jewish musical tradition, or in the style of a traditional folk song. Notably, when the characters face moments of intense suffering, the accompanying music would be a traditional Jewish melody, representing the characters’ desperate appeals to God. In other scenes, folk music remains the main accompaniment as it is traditionally the music of travellers and our protagonists have travelled exceptionally far. Such moments serve to engender substantial empathy towards the protagonists, feelings which are reinforced by the excellent performance of The Wanderer (Ben Caplan).
The Wanderer appears as an embodiment of refugees, or at the very least as a representation of those living an uprooted existence. He takes on the role of the narrator and largely provides the emotional core of the narrative. Whilst Caplan’s singing is highly commendable, arguably the most impressive aspect of his performance was his ability to enforce the frequently shifting mood of the play. Initially providing an animated and amusing narration that settles the audience into a feeling of relative comfort despite the protagonists’ circumstances, Caplan later contrasts this with a disarming injection of gravitas as the couple’s situation grows more desperate. The resulting whiplash fosters a creeping sense of dread and prompts a feeling of compassion towards the Chaya and Chaim.
By simultaneously telling an emotional story that is relevant now more than ever, whilst also balancing out even the darkest parts of the narrative with a solid helping of humour, 2b theatre company have created an undeniably entertaining experience. If you find the opportunity, I highly recommend you buy some tickets.