The Tailor of Inverness

This review first appeared in the Edinburgh Guide in 2010

Matthew Zajac (Tailor), Jonny Hardie, Gavin Marwick (musicians), Magdalena Kaleta (Polish voice)

Ben Harrison (director) Matthew Zajac (producer), Ali Maclaurin (set and costume design), Kai Fisher (lighting design), Tim Reid (video design), Timothy Brinkhurst (sound design) Sholto Bruce (production manager)

It is a daunting task to review a show that has already been lauded, awarded and been a previous Fringe First winner. However, this is no hardship. Matthew Zajac’s one man show is a riveting tour de force. The only accompaniment is some fine fiddling in the background.

The Tailor of Inverness tells the story of Matthew Zajac’s father’s journey from a farm in what is now Western Ukraine to Scotland. It takes us through his being taken prisoner by the Soviets in 1939, freed in 1941, then joining many fellow Poles to travel to Tehran and  Egypt, before being integrated into the British Army and fighting in North Africa and Italy, after which being resettled in Britain in 1948, and joining his brother in Glasgow from where he set up a tailoring business in Inverness.

Before the backdrop of a screen of ghostly clothes, bleached out like the faded lives of the disappeared, Zajac performs the astonishing feat of memory that is his heartfelt passionate monologue. His fabulous feat is convincing and performed like a conversation as he interweaves the tale of journeys that cross Europe like threads on the map, easily and convincingly becoming his father then being himself.  Clothes become a poignant metaphor for each character in the story from a pair of boots that were his lost cousin to the believably breathing coat of friend Yuri and the dress that was his father’s last gift to his daughter, about which is the most moving poem, The Dress You Gave Me.

The video installation is used practically to translate Polish and German text and show images of Zajac’s family but artistically and imaginatively to show his train-hopping through whirring images and Zajac jumping through a spinning clothes rack. This was visually astounding. Zajac’s press-ups while reciting a mantra at a Nazi command was physically impressive.

We are told that as an immigrant, Zajac’s father chose not to look back for his own safety, but through his family’s experience from peace to division and back to peace in Inverness, Zajac has looked back on his behalf and allowed us to share it vicariously. He finds lost family and meets them in humility. This is the story of one man, and the story of every man, of humanity. A marvellous piece of theatre.

 “I come from Gnilowoda. I come from a tailoring school in Podhajce. I come from the Eastern Front because when you are a tailor, they send you to be a soldier. I come from the Soviets and the Nazis. I come from a farm, from the forests and fields of green Ukraine. From the resettlement camps of Germany. From the beaches of the Adriatic. From the grimy streets of Glasgow. And the cool air of Inverness. Now I am here. I am from here. I speak the language of here.”

Irene Brown

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