Review: The Tailor of Inverness, Finborough Theatre

Stinging with hard-earned wisdom and sadly all-too-relevant, The Tailor of Inverness is a striking work of theatre, now playing at the Finborough Theatre

“I am from here

As the spectre of conflict casts a cold shadow once more over Europe’s eastern reaches, Matthew Zajac’s 2008 play The Tailor of Inverness arrives at the Finborough Theatre for its London premiere with a sadly renewed relevance. A deeply personal one-man-show, directed with real emotional clarity by Ben Harrison, it translates the specificities of that experience into a wider lesson about the painful and pernicious effect of war, in ways in which we might not have previously considered and which demand our attention once again.

The play is nominally about Zajac’s father – the titular tailor – and Zajac Jnr introduces us to him in his workshop, his chirpy brogue takes us through some of his journey from his Polish birthplace to the Scottish Highlands, Polish-language flashbacks exploring some of his childhood games. But any personal history of the mid-twentieth century has to be shaped by the Second World War and in this particular region, its traumatic ripples hit particularly hard. (I don’t know if it is deliberate but something about the detail of Ali Maclaurin’s patchworked back drop recalled one of the rooms at Auschwitz.)

The stories that Zajac’s father told him reflect that complicated history – imprisonment by Soviets, release under amnesty by Nazis, enlisting and then fighting with the British Army – but as he, and eventually we, come to realise, those tales weren’t necessarily true. And as he unpicks what facts could be sifted from the fiction, a stranger, sadder story emerges as Zajac Jnr uncovers his actual family history. Soundtracked by some gorgeously evocative live violin (Jonny Hardy at this performance, alternating with Amy Geddes), there’s something unimaginably profound here.

I say unimaginably, though it is the experience of too many in the world right now. The reality of fluctuating borders (that birthplace in Eastern Poland is now in Western Ukraine) and what that means for one’s identity is deeply thought-provoking, the challenges of constructing the facade of the ‘acceptable migrant’ is one which still resonates so strongly today, the impossibilities of difficult decisions about family members almost too much to bear.

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