Do you know what’s great? Stories about people. Being sat down and taken upon this journey, by someone who has the grace and goodwill to share their life with you, is an experience both fascinating and humbling. It’s probably the earliest theatrical device, and none the worse because of this. The Tailor of Inverness is a prime example of how compelling storytelling mixed with huge historical context can produce the most electric theatre imaginable.
Dogstar Theatre’s production is a blend of Polish history and Scottish humour. Set against the war-torn backdrop of early twentieth century Europe, we follow the story of both Mateusz and Matthew Zajac, two men actively searching for themselves. The former is the titular tailor, a Polish man with a deeply troubled past. Uprooted from all his homesteads, Mateusz moves through Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Italy and Germany, never allowed to return home. His son, Matthew, is the writer and plays both himself and his father, working out how he came to be here and unravelling this tale in front of our eyes.
The script uses devices such as documentary, mythology and even cartography to keep us invested on a theatrical level, but also has the good sense to never be preachy. Matseuz holding two small suits, telling us they belong to two Jewish boys, is the most heart-breaking moment as he doesn’t have to say anything else. It is also important to see that Dogstar have paid tribute to the relevance of this play today: the word ‘refugee’ hangs above this piece like a guillotine.
Zajac is a force to be reckoned with. It has been so long since I saw a performance that encapsulates so much: rage, fear, humour, precision, speed – the list runs and runs. Zajac’s ability to switch between his own dialect and his father’s, both already very similar and thus so much harder to do, is extraordinary. Just as impressive is Ben Harrison’s exceptional direction, which treads the line between artistic overkill and rigorous storytelling. It’s one of those glorious moments when script, direction and performance all come together as one, and the audience feeds off the result – it’s excellent craftsmanship. Special mention also goes to Gavin Marwick for his evocative violin score, which almost become a character in itself.
This production requires intense focus for it to have maximum impact. We rattle along at a fair old pace, as Zajac has much to tell us of his father’s journey, so lose interest for a second and you’ll find it quite hard to catch up. It also feels as though the show wants to end on numerous occasions. This isn’t strictly an issue (I was very happy to keep listening), but does lessen the impact when we finally draw to a close. This production deserves an awful lot of respect for having the bravery to tell us such a story, but if you’re someone who gets bored easily then it’s probably not the show for you. Personally, I found it a deeply fascinating experience.
There’s only so much a review can encapsulate, so take my advice – seek out this show. Not only is this one of the best examples of storytelling out there, it is a work of art, a one-man show like no other. The Tailor of Inverness succeeds on so many levels, but most importantly it’s so completely relevant that it makes you hurt. It is absolutely everything theatre should be and more.
The Tailor of Inverness played at the Chats Palace until 25 March. For more information, see the Dogstar Theatre website.