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The Tailor of Inverness (Susan Elkin reviews)

The Tailor of Inverness

Written and peformed by Matthew Zajac

Dogstar Theatre

Finborough Theatre

Star rating 4

I’m not surprised that this powerful, entertaining one-hander won awards in Edinburgh when it launched there in 2008. Since then it has toured many times nationally and internationally to much acclaim. This is its London debut.

It tells the story of a Pole who was forced to leave his homeland in 1939, fought for both Germany and Russia and travelled almost all round the Mediterranean and middle east in a huge loop. After the war he arrived in England and – eventually – became a tailor in Inverness with a wife and children. It’s a strong account of displacement, tragedy and idenitity but ultimately finding some semblance of “normal” life.

As you watch Zajac – a talented actor – re-enact all this (surrounded with clothes on hangers and tailor’s dummies which become puppeted characters) you gradually recognise that this is a true story. The playwright is writing about his own family.

The projected maps, across which travel lines snake, are helpful. Most of us can’t quite visualise exactly where all these places are in relation to each other. The town in Galicia for example, that the family came from was close to the Ukrainian border and “relocated” there when the border moved after the Yalta conference in 1945.

The family trees are helpful too because you have to concentrate quite hard to keep track of who’s who as he moves down the generations. We also get photographs of these people so that suddenly they’re very real. Of course, there’s fear and violence along the way – with  evocative support from Kai Fischer’s lighting and Timothy Brinkhurst’s sound – and Kajac is good at mood change.

Sidestage is seated violinist, Jonny Hardie (alternating with Amy Geddes and Magdalena Kaleta at other performances). He provides folksy music in Polish or Scottish mood, punctuating the narrative, sometimes high and aggressive and at other moments tuneful and lyrical. Kajac sings occasional folk songs in Polish (words translated on the back screen) and he and Hardie are remarkably adept at getting into the same key without apparent effort.

It’s a poignant piece, especially given the present situation in Ukraine. And it’s rather beautifully done.

Matthew Kajak has written a book, also entitled The Tailor of Inverness which is available in paperback from Amazon and other bookshops.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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