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FringeReview UK 2024

The Tailor of Inverness

Dogstar Theatre in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre

Genre: Adaptation, Biographical Drama, Drama, Fringe Theatre, Historical, Live Music, Mainstream Theatre, Short Plays, Theatre

Venue: Finborough Theatre


Low Down

Matthew Zajac makes the subject of his 2008 award-winning and internationally-acclaimed The Tailor of Inverness, his own father, playing at Finborough directed by Ben Harrison till June 8th.

A gem of a piece, that only brightens.


Written by Matthew Zajac, Directed by Ben Harrison, Set and Costume Designer Ali Maclaurin,  Lighting and Projection Designer Kai Fischer, Sound Designer Timothy Brinkhurst

Stage Manager Venus Raven, Dogstar Theatre Company in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre

Translations Magdalena Kaleta, Lucy Ash, Tom Morrison

Publicity Photography Laurence Winram, Production Photography Tim Morozzo, Press and Marketing Martha Oakes PR, Social Media Faye Ryden

General Manager  Caitlin Carr

Till June 8th


“Heaps of girls in the village, of course. Och, I have number of girlfriends.” There’s several clues in this verbatim transcript of a Polish father Mateusz who ends up, as his son Matthew Zajac indicates, as the subject of his 2008 award-winning and internationally-acclaimed The Tailor of Inverness, playing at Finborough directed by Ben Harrison till June 8th

There’s more to unpack in that statement, originally used to realise in a play. As Zajac states, it’s been his career 42 years and it seemed natural to recruit the 1988 recording to a play that after his father died in 1992, he felt free to explore.

Zajac’s not alone. There’s an onstage violin played by Jonny Hardy on this occasion (alternating with Amy Geddes), and the Polish Voice of Magdelena Kaleta: at one point she speaks in Polish ad English a superb poem of  Zajac’s in the voice of a woman Anya, who becomes crucial as the play, or dramatized telling, unfolds.

Hardy’s Scottish folk-music haunts itself to a sonic periphery where it edges into middle-Europe and occasionally recognisable snatches of Polish and Ukraine folk songs. The recent Cold War at the Almeida edged nearer this territory It’s consummate and proves the rhythmic backdrop, drawing the listener to truths contrary to, or supporting Zajac’s telling of Mateusz, according to Mateusz.

And returning to Poland Zajac discovers contradictory truths. After the play came in 2008, Zajac felt compelled to “purge” – a word he distrusts but uses – and so he produced the memoir of the same name in 2011, which contains that 1988 transcript and much else.

As Misha Glenny states of this “breathtaking investigation” Zajac “out of a merely curious son develops a forensic investigator who peels back the lies”.

Ali Maclaurin’s set is rigorously simple: a clothes rack with four uniforms, one for each army served in, and at one point Zajac swirls it round and jumps it as he speeds through territories. A cutting table and  a backdrop of clothes where Kai Fischer’s lighting and projections paly maps, and haunted arrows moving across Europe. Timothy Brinkhurst’s sound amplifies a few noises of, but sound is mostly rapt: voice and violin.

At one point after inhabiting hiding out from wolves which shimmers with childhood and a father escaping detection, we’re treated to the circling of the fox, with a ream of thread and scissors. “You see the fox, and you round with the horse and the sleigh. Circle it, fox, all around and join the circle… you have him because he would not cross the circle. And you go smaller circle and smaller circle and then bang, you got the fox.” This trope’s repeated and Mateusz is perhaps gently caught n a trap out of his own mouth.

Mateusz starts with how he came to Inverness to join his younger brother, originally In Glasgow in 1948. Then we loop back to village life, conscription into the 51st Infantry Division in 1939, fighting, capture in Romania by the Soviets and imprisonment in a collective far, freezing for some time before the German invasion.

Fighting for the Soviets and escape through Iran, Iraq and Syria to join the British army in Egypt and fight up Italy. British army records state different dates, and there’s far more to this than Mateusz admits.

Mateusz’s story is not one of sheer duplicity but a fight for survival. Pragmatic shifts are enacted sometimes by puzzling moments in other languages – again projected in translation on the pale-clothed backdrop, which corrugate and shadow likes layers, how many histories deep.

One of these is the bi-national Polish/Ukraine heritage Mateusz was candid on, though Matthew unearths the actual civil wars between these two countries, and origins, which never entirely subsided, despite Soviet control, till 1960. There’s more casualties close to home.

There’s far more to peel back like ana rheological dig into family conscience, with compassion and understanding but relentless truth-seeking. Latterly Zajac appears as himself, his own accent and father’s civilian clothing morphed into a modern traveller, with more contemporary photographs.

Zajac’s a consummate and deeply energised actor. That is he coils ready to pounce his explosive declaration at the right moment. For instance when he releases the full barking tenor of his voice, mimicking his father pushes to extremis. It’s a commanding performance and as an embodiment remains authoritative. Yet the language and construction are so powerful it could survive, one day, transition to another actor. Were lucky we have its creator. A gem of a piece, that only brightens.