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Old Stock review at the Canada Hub, King’s Hall, Edinburgh – ‘stunning vocal performance’

Ben Caplan in Old Stock at the King's Hall, Edinburgh. Photo: Stoo Metz Ben Caplan in Old Stock at the King's Hall, Edinburgh. Photo: Stoo Metz

In 1908 playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s great-grandparents fled the pogroms in Romania for a new life in Montreal. Old Stock, a ‘refugee musical’, which is part of the Canada Hub programme, tells their story.

Majestically bearded Canadian singer-songwriter and Lemon Bucket Orkestra cohort Ben Caplan plays the Wanderer, a narrator figure in a natty waistcoat who tells the tale of Chaim and Chaya, two young Romanians who meet and marry in Canada and attempt to build a new life together. Their union is based on pragmatism and need as much as love. They have both experienced vast, destabilising loss. Her husband died of typhus; he saw most of his family wiped out. They carry these things with them.

While Caplan is a thunder-lunged performer with a voice that is positively meteorological, his presence swamps the production and smothers the delicacy of the story being told. It’s a dominant and showy performance, though his vocal power is undoubted.

Mary Fay Coady gives a characterful and precise performance as Chaya and there’s some wonderful klezmer and wedding music to enjoy. However, some of the songs, by Caplan and director Christian Barry, are tonally jarring. There’s an obsession with shtupping and sticking one’s dick into things that, while presumably intended to reflect the fact that sex is a mitzvah in Judaism, makes everything feel a bit mucky.

Barry’s production does not overplay the parallels between the Moscovitchs’ story and today’s refugees. But it’s always there, a constant question: would we extend the same welcome to them today?

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Uplifting, if tonally unbalanced, refugee musical featuring a stunning vocal performance