Helena Payne reviews Old Stock, presented by Canadian-based 2b Theatre now playing at Wilton’s Music Hall.
Wilton’s Music Hall
Old Stock at Wilton’s describes itself as “A Refugee Love Story,” but it is also a timely comment by Canadian-based 2b Theatre on the topic of immigration; what it takes to leave your home and build another life in a distant land. On a day when across the planet, children and young people are striking and demanding action for climate change, it is easy to see the relevance of this individual story and its applicability to the mass migration we are starting to see globally.
Wilton’s warm and beautiful music hall is a good choice of venue for Old Stock as it is almost impossible to categorise. Sort of theatre-sort of cabaret-sort of a gig, the charming and resilient 19th century building welcomes work that doesn’t suit conventional theatre spaces. Upon the stage is set an imposing “shipping container;” the universal symbol for life in transit. From this burst forth the players of the piece lead by the pure velocity of singer-songwriter Ben Caplan in the role of “the wanderer.” He narrates and comperes for the evening, telling the story of Chaya and Chaim who fled the pogroms in Eastern Europe to settle in Canada. Dressed like a mad hatter on speed he engages us from the off, but it is his Tom Waits-esque singing, the jolly klezmer and more heartfelt numbers in Yiddish that really move. It is a uniformly strong ensemble of five, both musically from Jeff Kingsbury and Kelsey McNulty and dramatically from the lovers played by the multi-talented Eric Da Costa and magnetic Mary Fay Coady.
Christian Barry’s direction is simple yet effective. There are some beautiful ideas such as the harmonica outro at the end of one song becoming the sound of the train as the characters bump into each other at the station in the next scene. Equally, when Ben Caplan dons a “tallit” to pray during the sickness of Chaya and Chaim’s first born, there is a stunning moment when he wraps her in the garment and we sense her relief and comfort, her closeness to God. Whilst the funniest song of the night was certainly the irreverent “Truth Doesn’t Live in a Book.” Both hilarious and informative, I had no idea about the Oral laws of the Torah and the catchy chorus even got a relatively reserved English Press Night audience clapping and singing along.
2b’s Old stock is a quirky and joyful evening at the theatre, full of fun, thoughtfulness and predictably Canadian kindness. Despite their tragic experiences, Chaya and Chaim through hard work, perseverance and good humour establish a successful life in the New World, their tale celebrated and immortalised in Hannah Moscovitch’s sympathetically crafted play. There are real moments of darkness and pathos in this whirlwind 80 minutes but it’s the laughs and madcap antics that will stay with me. As we watch the tectonic shifts in the political landscapes of our countries change, it’s so important to remember the human impact of bureaucratic tinkering with laws and policy. We could all be Chaya and Chaim.
Wilton’s Music Hall until 28 September 2019