Interview: Hannah Moscovitch and Christian Barry

The husband and wife team behind touring musical Old Stock tell us why the show resonates with contemporary audiences

**Please note this is an abridged version. Read the full interview in the October 2018 issue of Jewish Renaissance.

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story is a touring musical from Canada’s 2b Theatre Company about Canadian refugees at the turn of the 20th century. Judi Herman speaks to husband and wife team Hannah Moscovitch and Christian Barry to find out why the show has such resonance with contemporary audiences.

“It’s the story of them falling in love in Canada and with Canada,” says Canadian writer Hannah Moscovitch. She is talking about her great-grandparents, Chaim and Chaya, who fled pogroms in Romania in 1908 to arrive in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the entry port to Canada. Their story is the inspiration for Old Stock, a genre-defying show that is part theatre, part gig and wholly entertaining, informative and intensely moving. “They have to fall in love despite all the trauma that they carry with them from the old world – and despite loving Romania.”


Hannah wrote the show with her husband, theatre director Christian Barry, and charismatic Canadian singer/songwriter Ben Caplan. The musician’s songs for the show are richly varied in style: lovers of klezmer, niggunim (Jewish songs, usually hummed without words or with repetitive sounds like ‘bim bam’) and even rap, won’t be disappointed. “Ben also plays the Wanderer, an MC character in the style of Cabaret. He’s mischievous, raunchy, a sort of hipster rabbi and storyteller who guides you through the story,” says Hannah.

The show begins with the set, designed as a shipping container, splitting open to reveal four multi-talented musicians. Violinist Mary Fay Coady plays Chaya, and Dani Oore, a woodwind player, is Chaim. Caplan the Wanderer leaps out to his vantage point above, from where he comments on the action and gleefully interacts with the audience. Christian outlines the thinking behind this striking image: “We wanted the musicians to have an active role in the storytelling. We imagined them as a travelling band of troubadours who come into town to entertain and we gave it a contemporary twist. Halifax is a port city, with periodic stowaway stories. The container looks like a railway cart too, which has dark resonances for Jews. That container became our cart, to roll into town and pack up and ship to the next town.”


The ‘old stock’ of the title refers to a phrase used by former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper in a 2015 election debate.  Responding to a question about health care for refugees, he used the term “old stock Canadians” to imply that there were some nationals who had a more legitimate claim to be Canadians than others. 

So how did the idea for the show come about? “Photos of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian refugee toddler who was washed up on a Turkish beach in 2015, were circulating around the world,” says Christian. “He had a Canadian aunt who had been expecting to sponsor him. So Ben and I decided we wanted to make something dealing with the refugee crisis. And not wanting to appropriate a story that was not ours we were searching for something that might give us access to that story. Fast forward a year or so and, coincidentally, Hannah took our baby son Elijah to a museum in Halifax called Pier 21.” 


“Anyone who came into Canada by boat would have come through Halifax and Pier 21, as my great grandparents did,” explains Hannah.  “At Pier 21 we found their records: the boat they came on and the day they came in. Plus we know they stood where we were standing when we visited. 

“Hannah had this amazing realisation,” continues Christian, “that had they not taken that risk – that journey across the ocean – Elijah wouldn’t be there with her in the push chair. She came home and told me and I said, ‘We’ve got our story!’ This is the refugee story that’s very close to home.”

By Judi Herman

Photos by Stoo Metz Photography

**Please note this is an abridged version. Read the full interview in the October 2018 issue of Jewish Renaissance.

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story tours until Friday 9 November. See it at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (9-10 Oct); Arts Depot, London (12-13 Oct); Hertford Theatre (16 Oct); Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury (19-20 Oct); Old Market, Brighton (23-27 Oct); The Lowry, Salford (30-31 Oct); Oxford Playhouse (5-6 Nov); and Cast, Doncaster (8-9 Nov).