Image by Tim Morozzo
“the energy boils over from time to time, and a handful of moments of great poignancy felt rushed and under-sold”
Much acclaimed on its earlier runs at the Edinburgh Fringe, The Tailor Of Inverness tells the true life story of the late Mateusz Zajac… who was also performer and playwright Matthew Zajac’s dad. Displaced from his home in eastern Poland at the onset of the Second World War, Zajac senior’s travels took him across numerous battlefields, before he finally settled in the north of Scotland and lived out the remainder of his life as a respected local craftsman. It’s a complex tale, but well-judged projections in the background help keep track of the tailor’s journey through life, as he voyages from Poland to war in Africa and a C&A factory in Glasgow.
But here’s the thing. If you’re over the age of – let’s say – thirty-five, the chances are that you grew up listening to no less fascinating wartime tales. There is a reason to tell Zajac’s story above most others, but the script waits far too long to show the trump cards in its hand. Too much time early on is given over to the bones of the eponymous tailor’s narrative, which is engaging and sometimes thought-provoking but not, on cold analysis, particularly exceptional.
And the latter parts of the play are disappointingly factual. Thanks to its extensive use of documentary video recordings, the production feels more than anything like an edition of Who Do You Think You Are?, depriving it of some of the impact a more theatrical approach could have engendered. It’s particularly sad that we hear so little from the tailor’s character during this second part of the play; the set-up seems perfect for a speculative analysis of his motivations, but some obvious questions about why he behaved the way he did remain almost entirely unexplored.
Actor-playwright Matthew Zajac has earned many deserved plaudits for his role in this play. His mix of Polish and Scottish accents is a particular delight, and his physical performance is utterly dauntless. But, five years after he first performed his script, he may have lost a little subtlety – the energy boils over from time to time, and a handful of moments of great poignancy felt rushed and under-sold. The script also tends to over-use the device of jumping into the middle of an intense scene, a technique which loses its effectiveness when it’s deployed too often.
The Tailor Of Inverness is a fine history lesson – you’ll learn a great deal about how the borders of Eastern Europe were drawn – and an inspiring tale of a loving son’s efforts to piece together the past. But there’s something missing: a moral, perhaps, or a clear sense of purpose. The tailor appeals to us to accept him for who he is – at once a Pole, a Ukrainian, a Russian, and a Scot – but aside from Nazi ideologues, nobody in the play seems to have any problem doing exactly that. This is a story well told, but it’s frustratingly hard to pin down quite what it wants to teach us.
Reviewer: Richard Stamp (Seen 1 November)