The Tailor of Inverness
Stagecraft: Script : Performance
Last week I found myself watching on the BBC iplayer a story of Treblinka’s last two survivors, & was especially moved by their tales. If it wasn’t for the intrepid determination of the Jewish workers to escape the camp during those last desperate days, their story would never have been told. In the same fashion the Tailor of Inverness is also the story of a survivor of the great cataclysm that was the Second World War. This conflict is a gigantic stitched canvas in which millions of life-tales were interwoven – but in the case of Mateus Zajac, his thread weaves in & out & all over the canvas like some hyperactive child in a nursery.
The play is in two parts – the first is an odyssey in the traditional sense: an orator with not a little PTSD traveloguing through a series of escapades & misadventures that saw the young Mateus land up in Scotland – a child of global war & scattered to the winds like so much confetti. The second half of the play concerns his truth-seeking sons unraveling of that tale & his astonishing discoveries of the real truths behind his father war-time activities. The play’s title comes from Mateus’s profession, who learning his trade in his home village astride the Poilus Ukranian border in Galicia, found himself in Scotland shortly after the war. Of his work, Dogstar Theatre’s director, Ben Harrison told the Mumble, ‘the metaphor of a tailor stitching fabric & at the same time fabricating stories to clothe or mask his true identity.’ On stage with him in a mannequin doll & table & a clothes rail , props used to perfection to flesh his tale. The stagecraft to this impeccable, perfect for the job from the fiddle-player accompanying the Ukranian folk songs, to the well-timed maps & photographs projected on screen – this is both a multi-lingual & a multi-media production.
Mateus is played by his son, Matthew, who is also the writer & producer of Tailor. On its premier at the 2008 fringe it won many awards & went on to tour Scotland 5 times as well as performances in Poland, Ukraine, USA, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Wales, Germany & England; with its 250th performance coming up. Despite this heavy schedule, Matthew’s performance is still top-notch, capturing his subject with emotion & the most flawless delivery. His 33 years in the business has seen him assimilate ideas from across the board, masticate them in his teeming brain & then regurgitate what is clearly his masterpiece. It really is an astounding piece, which grabs you from the word go & doesn’t let go the teary finale.
The Tailor of Inverness invades your mind as the Polish, German, English & Russian tongues intermix, & at all times I felt like I was some wee nipper listening to my Great Grandfather’s yarns about the Boer War. Of its creation, Matthew told the Mumble, ‘The play represents the culmination of numerous journeys I have made, which started with childhood holidays to Poland…. my father’s story is one of millions, each worth telling, whether from Poland or Sudan, Syria or Congo. The need for these stories to be told is one of the strongest arguments I know for the necessity of art.’ As a spot of archiving, Tailor is supreme, & as a piece of theatre is as equally brilliant, an intricately-woven story full of fine speech & moving & momentous moments.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen