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Review: Old Stock at Arts Centre Melbourne

By Taylor Kendal

As the audience files in to the Fairfax theatre, they are met with a simple sight; lights strung from the ceiling, and a large red shipping container sitting on the stage, waiting. As the lights go down, a bearded figure, The Wanderer, rises from the top, and welcomes Melbourne to the show via the way of the Traveller’s Curse. This introduction provided by co-creator, lyricist and star, Ben Caplan is one that captures the audience’s attention without fault, and invites us in to the world of Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story.

The container bursts open revealing our cast and our band, who are one and the same for this production, as they throw the audience into a Klezmer filled whirlwind that takes us to Halifax, Canada in the year 1908. It is here we meet Chaim and Chaya (played by Dani Oore and Mary Fay Coady respectively); two Romanian Jews who have come to Canada to searching for refuge after leavening their homeland on the brink of war. Their meet cute? One for the ages, as per every love story; they compare illnesses in line at Immigration. He has a rash that could possibly be typhus; she has a cough they believe is tuberculosis. A match made in heaven, right?

Throughout the story, we follow Chaim and Chaya’s lives together as they entwine, following their marriage, and their lives together; seemingly ostracized forever as not being of Old Stock, and as they try to move forward in this new life while often being caught in the past they were forced to leave behind.

Though the audience is invited to laugh and smile, for there are some joys, it is not always a happy tale. When it seems the most grim, we are brought out of their world for a moment, ensured that it is ‘just a story’ that it didn’t really happen. This is a lie. We discover this is a true story, and is written by the couple’s direct descendant, Hanna Moscovitch, with music and lyrics by Caplan and Christian Barry. Caplan’s Wanderer is revealed to be playing the part of the descendant, to show that in the end, hope won out and it was a happy ending.

The musical narration, provided by Caplan, with his almost sinfully stunning vocals and stage presence, is not only the framework of the story, but leaves the audients with moments to laugh, to cry, to feel and above all, to think. Songs set to a rich Klesma rhythm, with messages that transcend every religion and every age, speaking true to some of the world’s most conflicting issues today, and that ‘the truth doesn’t live in a book’. It is for this, and the beautiful words of the story, that I take my hat off to the cast and crew.

So whether you travel by a boat, a plane, or an SUV with seat warmers that warms your undercarriage, Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story is a show that is not to be missed. That is no lie.

Production Photo Credit: Stoo Metz Photography

Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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