Writer: Matthew Zajac
Director: Ben Harrison
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
War and all of its travesties will never be understood. From the British perspective – we were the heroes, they the villains. When presented with people quite literally in the bootstraps of the opposition many are unable to connect. The stories told by people leaving the Third Reich behind are sometimes worn proudly, as a warning. Sometimes hushed, wishing to forget, but for the case of immigrants such as Mateusz Zajac, the reinvention of his time during the war is to ensure his acceptance in Scotland as The Tailor of Inverness.
The son of the Polish tailor, Matthew Zajac has endeavoured to get to the foundations of his father Mateusz’s life during his enigmatic years. Playing both the role of he and his father, this stage adaption keeps the descriptive plot and offers poignant performances with rich accompaniment by fiddler Gavin Marwick.
As the tailor’s strings are stitched, woven into his son Matthew’s jacket it’s within these threads we find the inherent fault with an otherwise remarkable piece of theatre. For those familiar, it’s no secret that Zajac’s writing is at its pinnacle superb, at its weakest complicated. Several threads are left untightened throughout the narrative, though with reason. When all the strands are in place – Zajac pulls the hems together and what we hope for is a tight piece where all threads align. In truth, it isn’t as difficult as others claim to follow – but for the general theatre-going public, it is not straightforward.
Zajac’s ardent performance inherently helps the story. As this is his story, his father’s story, the story of his family and his cultural identity – the delivery is natural. It’s volatile in its emotion, painful to hear, but eye-opening to watch. There’s merriment, dancing and humour – his performance isn’t only compelling, but enjoyable.
Where the theatrical adaption enhances the book, is with the ability to offer visuals. We see the interviews and hear the audio tapes Matthew has made in his travels. While we often enjoy making our own images, the projections allow us to invest so much more in this family’s growth story. The impressive set design, a series of garments flattened into a screen is an inventive method to allow for projection. The ridges in the shirt cuffs, however, cause obstruction of words if you’re far to either side of the theatre.
The theme of circling is eternally present in Zajac’s text, it’s themed such as a strive to battle against ourselves, identity and this complex narrative. The story told by his father, of circling a fox in order to snare it runs parallel to other events. The first, Matthew’s closing in around his father’s footsteps before his time in Scotland. More though, on the subject of immigration, is Mateusz’s reinvention of his past.
Immigration is not just a ‘current’ issue, tragically it’s always been an issue. Even in the reparations of war, Mateusz found himself in another circle – a circle of his own creation surrounding his time in the Soviet Union, as a soldier for the German side, but also a prisoner of war. The truth spiralling in on him, The Tailor of Inverness is indeed relevant still today, just as it was 10 years ago.
Transitioning to the stage works for The Taylor of Inverness, though only so much. The original text has space in order to lay it’s groundwork more seamlessly. The passion, power and triumphant ability within Zajac’s performance is commanding. Regardless of complexity, The Tailor of Inverness is still the construction of importance, an empathetic yet defiant examination of family, reinvention, storytelling and two men’s different but extraordinary journeys.
Reviewed on 18 April 2019 | Image: Contributed