Having premiered almost eleven years ago, I expected The Tailor of Inverness to be a well-developed piece that knew what it set out to achieve. Whilst the production itself is of a very high standard, the writing leaves much to be desired.
It’s the true story of Mateusz Zajac, who grew up in Eastern Poland, and his experiences of the Second World War. Told through the eyes of his now-adult son, the tale touches on themes of family, memory, and belonging. Actor Matthew Zajac is undeniably brilliant: his acting is deft and moving, and manages to convey a depth of feeling through the most subtle of expressions. He is accompanied by violinist Jonny Hardie, whose playing created continuity within the erratic storyline.
Indeed, though the story’s piecemeal quality certainly reflects the flashes of clarity in Mateusz’s tale, this makes it difficult to identify a central plot. What at first seems like a war narrative turns into a search for identity in such a changeable time, and later evolves into a son’s attempt to connect with his father’s hidden past. This would be effective if the son’s character had been introduced earlier. The second half of the play seems to stop and start at intervals, leading the audience to believe it is the end, before sweeping off into a new branch of the narrative. Again, this would work well if it were clearer what the play’s intentions are.
As it stands, however, the mise en scène is outstanding. The use of props is original and dynamic – I particularly enjoyed the spinning clothing rack for a train journey – and the graphics projected overhead are an effective accompaniment to the tale. Zajac’s use of Polish throughout the narrative also lends it authenticity, which is further heightened when the equivalent subtitles are omitted. It’s clear we are only guests in this story.
Of course, the brilliance of the show’s design is in its use of clothing. Zajac sews up a blazer in real time, which invites the audience closer; he creates a heartbeat with his hand in a jacket pocket to represent the last moments of a fellow soldier. This moment was particularly striking, as it demonstrated how all of Mateusz’s memories are reduced to shadows that can only be animated by his own reminiscing. It is clear that he attempts to keep his past alive through clothing. Further, clothing becomes an interchangeable signifier of identity. Different jackets signpost a new chapter in the narrative, as Mateusz goes from Soviet worker to a soldier of the Third Reich, to a simple tailor in Scotland. This motif becomes especially poignant when he must decide whether or not to pin a Star of David to his chest.
I cannot decide my opinion on this play. It is obvious how much thought went into its creation, and given its decade-long run I suspect that I perhaps missed some of the subtleties of its writing. The performers are marvellous, and the production is visually engaging, but it sorely lacks direction.
PHOTO: Dogstar Theatre