Theatre review: Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story

Edinburgh Festival Fringe: At the start, the entire show emerges from a small shipping container; which seems more than appropriate for a company out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, one of north ­America's great port ­cities.

Canada Hub @ King’s Hall ­(Venue 73)


Sign up to our daily newsletter

And the tale told by the 2b Theatre Company is also about transatlantic journeying, as it takes a brilliant step back from the refugee crises of the 21st century to remember the mass ­westward migrations of a century ago, and particularly the ­arrival in Nova ­Scotia, in 1908, of ­Romanian ­Jewish migrants, driven out of Europe by a combination of extreme ­poverty and savage pogroms.

Musician and co-­creator of the show, Ben Caplan, plays the narrator, known as The Wanderer, a kind of rabbi-cum-travelling showman of Jewish history and culture; and as the doors of the container open to reveal a four-piece band including the show’s two leading actors, he begins to roar, sing, cajole, weep and jest his way through the story of Chaim and Chaya, who meet in the immigration queue at Halifax harbour, and go on to marry, despite the fact that both of them are deeply scarred, Chaim by the ­murder of his entire family in a pogrom, Chaya by the death from fever and starvation of her adored first husband.

This is a show, in other words, about the detail of how people go on to build new lives after such ­horror, and the difficulty they ­experience in loving, and believing, and ­surviving the prejudice they encounter, when it may trigger such ­horrifying ­memories. The show draws deeply and unforgettably on the wit and wisdom of Jewish ­culture about many of these ­questions, including the art of marriage.

If Caplan’s bravura ­performance is sometimes a shade too overwhelming, Mary Fay Coady and Christopher Weatherstone are so perfectly pitched and quietly charismatic as Chaya and Chaim that the Old Stock experience becomes irresistible, borne along on a tide of brilliant klezmer music and original song that links us to an old world, and helps us to live joyfully in a new one.

Until 27 August. Today 4pm & 9:30pm.