Guest Author - Asha Sahni
I bought a ticket to see The Tailor of Invernes at the Nairn Book & Arts Festival.
I came out of the performance with a feeling of awe. I had not realised I was going to see a play that was both personal and universal. The story of the actor’s father - born in Poland, unsettled through war, who carved a new life and identity in Scotland.
Written, performed and produced by Matthew Zajac, The Tailor of Inverness, a one-man show, is engaging, absorbing, gut-wrenching theatre. The actor is accompanied on stage by a violin player whose music spans a spectrum of emotion from angry to joyful, haunting to resentful. The actor becomes many people in the 70 minutes of his story’s telling – primarily his father at different stages and different ages, but also those whom this man touches in a lifetime that crosses boundaries of country, loyalty and truth. The tailor on stage carefully stitches cloth as he tells his stories, each tale a new garment to be tried on for size.
The stage backdrop is a wall of clothes, pressed and fading into the background. The props are used magnificently – a tailor’s dummy who becomes different women as the story unfolds. Jackets on a clothes rack which become people. Boots which represent a young man who died before his time.
A screen at the back of the stage holds images, translation (the actor moves between languages with amazing ease) and people moving, meeting, speaking. The actor also moves between characters with a flow that works – by putting on glasses, by picking up a garment to stitch, he becomes his father the tailor again – rational, telling of a life well lived, of opportunity and family and a settled life.
After the Second World War the tailor of the play’s title settled in Scotland, in Glasgow and then in Inverness. He worked hard, established a new and profitable life for himself. Started a family who learned the stories of his past he chose to share. He integrated into the new land where he had settled. Yet, as with so many people who have been ravaged by war, there was a wall to a past beyond which he could not go. He held secrets of a time before he had crossed borders and seas to the shores of a new life. This play holds a gentle unravelling of truths and part truths, of things said and memories unspoken.
This story could be the story of so many people who have lived through war, through change and tumult, who have rebuilt their lives again and have chosen to keep their true past in a box they seldom open.