More than a century ago, Hannah Moscovitch’s great-grandmother, Chaya, set sail from Bucharest as a young, childless widow, intent on starting a new life in Canada.
On arrival, she was sent to Halifax’s Pier 2, the Canadian equivalent of Ellis Island, and there she met Chaim, a 19-year-old who fled Brasov following the murder of his relatives during a violent pogrom.
Their serendipitous meeting inspired playwright Moscovitch to pen Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story, which after winning critical acclaim in Canada, opened this week for a 10-day run in London.
The touching musical-play hybrid is set against edgy Klezmer-inspired compositions, which were co-written by Moscovitch’s director husband, Christian Barry, and folk musician, Ben Caplan, who also takes on the role of the “chutzpahdik” narrator.
Describing Moscovitch’s writing as “a thing of spectacular beauty”, Caplan says the story is as relevant to stories of refugees today, as it was 100 years ago.
“Three years ago, we were all affected by the image of Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a Turkish beach after his family escaped from Syria, as well as by the words of then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who referred to “Old Stock Canadians” to draw distinctions with new arrivals, which I thought was just reprehensible.
“It’s so easy to refer to migrants as numbers, but it’s a completely dehumanising way to talk about people and loses the stories of those individual lives.”
Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story runs at Wilton’s Music Hall, Whitechapel, until September 28, www.wiltons.org.uk