With an estimated 25.4 million refugees seeking asylum around the world (UNHCR 2018), award winning playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s work Old Stock – a refugee love story strikes a very relevant and powerful chord. This often harrowing story revolves around 2 Romanian Jews, Chaim and Chaya, fleeing persecution in the early 1900’s and is inspired by the true events of Moscovitch’s great grand parents.
While waiting in a processing line at an immigration centre in Halifax, Canada in 1908, Chaim and Chaya awkwardly meet and we begin to discover the tragic events that lead them to finding new lives. Although the same destination, their journeys are very different but equally as heartbreaking.
With tragic consequences, Chaya and her family journey overland to Russia prior to the pogroms that would decimate the Romanian Jewish population. Deciding not to leave, Chaim’s family stay and are brutally murdered. Alone, he makes the journey to Halifax to forget his past.
Hannah Moscovitch has penned a beautifully human story. It is dark and emotional but also beautifully poignant, funny and uplifting. It’s a journey of determination, healing and finding ones place in the world. It is also a potent reminder that behind every request for asylum there is a face, an often shared history with inexplicable tragedy.
But it is not only the story that makes this so captivating. The folk and klezmer inspired song makes for a unique one act musical that captures the essence of Jewish tradition. Director Christian Barry and acclaimed folk artist Ben Caplan’s songs are cleverly witty and pack a political punch. They straddle the line of tradition while dipping into a contemporary context to make this musical relevant. Caplan, who is also the effervescent Narrator for the evening, is mesmerising. He’s vaudevillian, a banterer, a comic, a storyteller and his unique vocals soar. His prayer song is spine tinglingly good.
Chaim and Chaya, Dani Oore & Mary Fay Coady, are beautifully honest and are themselves artists in storytelling. They not only give us wonderfully layered performances but together with Caplan, Graham Scott (Keyboard, Accordion) and Jamie Kronick (drumset) they form part of the on stage band. This company’s musicality is undeniable with instruments doubling as live sound scapes – think rain on a tin roof or an approaching steam train slowing to stop. Fabulous.
Director Christian Barry has delivered a production that has an obvious collaboration between writer, performer, musician and design. Lighting is wonderfully atmospheric and set design, a large shipping container adorned with traditional turn of the century furnishings and stacks of suitcases is in keeping with the theme of movement and journey.
2b Theatre Company has produced a very special theatre experience. Having finished a Sydney season for the Sydney Festival this award winning production plays at The Fairfax Arts Centre until 2 February and is one that should not be missed!
Images: Fadi Acra