‘Once upon a time,’ begins the storyteller, played by Samantha Spiro, seated in an armchair.

The story is of a poor, childless Woodcutter’s Wife who forages for food in the forests of Poland, in winter 1943. While the story is presented like a fairy tale, the set-up in Jean-Claude Grumberg’s best-selling novella is taken from his father’s experience of being deported from Paris to Auschwitz with his young family.

Brutal history is given a universal bent through the folkloric telling, as translated and directed by Nicolas Kent, in this trenchantly muted staging.

Ham & High: Cellist Gemma Rosefield in The Most Precious of GoodsCellist Gemma Rosefield in The Most Precious of Goods (Image: Beresford Hodge)

Points of view shift between two worlds. The story opens on the childless woodcutter’s wife as she notices trains are travelling through her forest with increasing frequency.

Since she cannot read, she’s unable to decipher the notes thrown out of windows. Meanwhile, a young father on a transit train must chose one twin baby’s survival over the other in a split second decision: does the shadowy figure running towards the train, arms outstretched, offer better odds for the baby’s survival?

The baby, wrapped in a prayer shawl spun with gold and silver, is pushed through the window bars and the woodcutter’s wife seizes this chance at happiness and takes the baby home. Her taciturn husband debunks her romantic theory – this is no gift from train gods - this is a Jewish baby who will bring them tragedy. The joyful baby is irresistible though and soon the Woodcutter is smitten.

Ham & High: Samantha Spiro in The Most Precious of Goods at Marylebone TheatreSamantha Spiro in The Most Precious of Goods at Marylebone Theatre (Image: Beresford Hodge)

Spiro’s cadenced delivery is a perfect fit for the lyrical writing and bedtime story style.

Descriptions of murder and the concentration camp existence are imbued with a deliberately perplexing sweetness. At times, questions are posed directly to the audience: don’t we want to know what happens to the father? Spoiler alert – to the girl once grown up?

Projections of serial numbers – evoking concentration camp tattoos or tree trunks - flank the stage. Cellist Gemma Rosefield accompanies with Yiddish tunes and lullabies. A riff on what is fact or fiction is muddled, but the message that leaving a trail of love is the only truth that matters is stated loud and clear.

Quietly theatrical but profoundly moving.