The Tailor of Inverness
OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, 18 February 2009
THE FIRST SIGHT of the dimly lit stage set (designed by Ali Maclaurin) sets off a frisson of anticipation. From the first word from Matthew Zajac’s lips, from the first note of Jonny Hardie’s fiddle, from the first change in Kai Fischer’s exemplary lighting plot, it is apparent that this is the real thing, theatrical gold. Every element whether music, dance, or video projections , every word, whether English, Scottish, Polish or Russian, is a necessary, integral part of the action, nothing is superfluous or accidental, everything has meaning.
Since the advent of “Who Do You Think You Are?” everyone is familiar with the template of the journey of genealogical discovery. Matthew Zajac’s delving into his father’s past is different, though; in the first half of the play he traces a journey across the faultlines of a Europe disintegrated by war, through communities suddenly divided by hostilities and ideologies old and new, in a way that we in the British Isles can only dimly understand.
A Middle-European Odyssey in which Penelope waits, unknowing, in Maryhill, it is a satisfying story with a dark beginning, an exciting middle and a happy Highland ending… and then the story changes, fragments, is overlaid with new stories, some of them congruent, some of them entirely conflicting.
By the end of the play, we are already casting our thoughts back to the beginning and re-evaluating words and songs which at first seemed like mere scene-setting and now feel like important clues to a mystery which can never be completely resolved.
Zajac conjures partisans hiding in snowfilled forests, romantic encounters, and harrowing scenes of brutality and death without a set change, just using a few coats and jackets. Somewhere in all of this, two children’s shirts, white, pristine, on hangers are taken off and then returned to the rail, wordlessly; because of the knowledge we all share, the sight brings tears to the eye for the first, but not the last, time.
Later, a simple sequence in which armbands are taken out of a box sketches, again wordlessly, another explanation for the complex layers of embroidered truth being laid out for us.
The Tailor of Inverness has a strong emotional impact right from the start and keeps that emotional level up throughout, adding layer upon layer of resonating imagery. It is a deeply felt, tightly written, beautifully imagined, directed and performed piece which is touring next to Australia, but would make sense anywhere on this 21st century planet where every day thousands, no, millions of people are – still – being forcibly migrated.
© Jennie Macfie, 2009