The Tailor of Inverness

Survival through terrible times: Matthew Zajac in The Tailor of Inverness

Survival through terrible times: Matthew Zajac in The Tailor of Inverness


Everyman Palace, Cork ***

A personal history of the second World War is crammed into The Tailor of Inverness as writer and performer Matthew Zajac re-lives his father’s journey from Poland to Scotland, and his successful life as a businessman. Such an outcome must have seemed unlikely in the extreme as the earlier Zajac was swept into forced migrations across dissolving borders and it is not surprising that the weight of this odyssey, with all the chaotic reversals and opportunism of an epic, is too heavy for its present form.

There is no doubting the personal identification of Matthew Zajac as protagonist or narrator, but perhaps director Ben Harrison might have cast a more objective eye on structure and thus prevented the leaking of narrative into a sentimental family biography. Of course, this is a poignant coda to the story: the sepia images, the video inserts, the telling of letters and meetings assert the miracles of survival through terrible times but, as the narrator says, this is just one more story among many.

What might make this particular one remarkable is its scale. As Poland becomes the filling of a sandwich between Germany and Russia after 1939, the young men of Galicia in the Ukraine endure forced labour under the Germans and then the Russians, later serving alternately in both armies. Assisted by arrowed maps, a layered screen, voice-overs and an excellent violin accompaniment, the tale winds its way to join the Allies in north Africa and on through Italy to eventual demobilisation. But no one life is lived only on the surface and Zajac has an undercurrent of reference that floods briefly into pools reflecting the light of horror, tragedy and love.

These darken and strengthen the play as reminders of what was really going on, of how friends are lost in the listing of populations, of how genocide is a matter of many individual deaths, and how emigration is a closure of many individual hearts.

Touring until March 16th

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