FringeReview Scotland 2019
Like all of us, Mathew Zajac had a father. Like many of us his father had a few stories to tell. Unlike most of us he has an incredible tale where his father has told a story of his war years that seems as far away from the truth as he is from his Polish origins as a tailor in Inverness. Zajac tells this story solo, with a haunting and precise musical accompaniment which combines subtlety and subtitles as well as some background video and photographs that show a theatrical understanding of what takes a fascinating tale and makes it a compelling piece of theatre.
There are probably few superlatives left to describe The Tailor of Inverness. It has gathered many awards, much praise and audiences well used to being in the palm of a consummate performer’s hands.
What is therefore left to say?
The script weaves its nuances throughout without giving a view as to the morality or the view of a son hearing of his father’s war. It leaves us to marvel at the revelations and want to know more. It draws us in and keeps us attentive whilst giving the fiction as well as the truth in a measured and highly theatrical manner. It is a joy, a journey and just delightful in the watch; theatrical magic dust.
We begin with a father and son being pursued by wolves. Metaphorically those wolves will bite later, but for now we know there is danger before we meet, the storyteller, his father.
That Zajac can play him faultlessly should perhaps be the least thing to be said, the least to be expected. The ticks, the phrases the cadences of the accent are not just there but alive in our thoughts, through the son’s memories and collectively in our vision. The performance begins with the stage all dad’s but Zajac’s voice becomes stronger as he discovers more, and we get a frequent swap with the younger voice and other voices becoming stronger.
The theatre arts that are employed combine a subtle use of lighting, music, subtitles and images on the back screen add that add a flair of theatricality which further illuminates the story.
Where the real gift and the true craft for me is that Zajac never gives us a view; he merely gives us the story. What we make of it and the discovery of a history that his father never admitted, a family that his father never mentioned and a father’s war is our response. It took a little while to realise, which is his gift, that the focus is about discovery and not condemnation. It would have been easy to heighten the dramatic impact by being horrified, rather than intrigued. It is that intrigue that shows that the apple for telling a tale does not really fall far from the source material…
Of course his father was no war criminal and to paint his story as one which was a little fantastic allows us to head into the moral maze without our compass; theatre asking questions – what could be better. The conflicts of the Second World War, as we are beginning to discover, were more than the struggle between Good and Evil. It makes this piece more than prescient but alive in the eye and memory of a time that should be questioning its past with a view to how we face the future.
As I headed off into the Cumbernauld evening, and with a back knowledge of the war, and knowing some Polish families it was a night to reflect on how comfortable we have it, how comforted we feel and how revelatory someone else’s story can be. Dogstar have had a winner on their hands for years. In Zajac they have an assured performer, in Ben Harrison and exceptional director, from Ali Maclaurin an exquisite set, from Kai Fischer a tremendous lighting design and wonderful music and sound onstage and over stage from Timothy Brinkhurst and either of two violinists – Gavin Marwick and Jonny Hardie. It fuses so well together and the fusion works with true genius at its heart and a wonderful tale to tell alongside. I suppose there was still quite a lot left to say after all…