Theatre review: The Tailor of Inverness, Tolbooth, Stirling

WHEN Britain looks back on the Second World War, the view we take is always unambiguous: we were the good guys, after all, fighting the good fight against Nazism.

WHEN Britain looks back on the Second World War, the view we take is always unambiguous: we were the good guys, after all, fighting the good fight against Nazism.

The Tailor of Inverness | Rating: **** | Tolbooth, Stirling

For millions across Europe, though, the same war brought a nightmare of physical and moral chaos, as people struggled to survive between the evils of Nazi and Soviet domination; among them Matthew Zajac’s father Mateusz, a young Polish tailor turned soldier – but in whose army? – who eventually found himself in Scotland after the war, and settled in Inverness.

In the first half of Zajac’s inspired 80-minute solo show, we therefore see him playing his own father, giving the heavily edited story of his wartime years that he used as a foundation for his new life. We already know, though, that there are terrifying flashback edges to the narrative that don’t quite fit; and so we follow Matthew Zajac – now playing himself – as he begins to retrace his father’s steps, and eventually to find his other “hidden” family in Poland and Ukraine.

Almost eight years on from its first performance, Zajac’s internationally acclaimed show remains as powerful as ever, all its elements of design and live music in perfect tune, Ben Harrison’s direction superb. And the theme, of course, never grows old; because it is the pity of war, and the brutality with which it breaks and remakes human lives, whether in Syria today, or in Poland, 77 years ago.

And if Matthew Zajac has created a monologue built around two distinct characters, the playwright Peter Arnott has gone one step further, in this fast-evolving dramatic form, and created a matching pair of monologues, Face – Isobel and Face – Morag, that describe the same situation from two opposing perspectives. The first speaker, Isobel, is a well-to-do Glasgow West End lady who looks quite at home in the front row at Oran Mor, where we first spot her, loudly asking when the play is going to start. The feisty attitude is typical, too; for at 60, and armed with her inheritance from her recently-dead mother, Isobel is a woman in full flight from the conventional, well-intentioned middle class life embraced by her twin sister Morag – a rebellion which involves leaving her tedious husband for a younger lover, and embracing a definition of freedom based on unapologetic selfishness that has won her a successful column in the Daily Mail.


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In Janette Foggo’s magnificent performance, though, Isobel is less dislikable than she sounds; partly because the timidly respectable background she comes from is all too recognisable, and ripe for rebellion, and partly because of the decades of profound pain it caused her, barely disguised by her new can-do attitude. Next week, we hear from Morag, the twin sister who’s already been glimpsed, back in 2014, in Perth Theatre’s pub evening of Cross Country Plays. For now, though, it’s Isobel who’s in full, glamorous possession of the Play, Pie And Pint stage; and plotting, among other things, to use her new-found wealth to change forever the face that she and her twin sister share, and which she now wants rid of, for good.

• Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh,10-11 February; Eden Court, Inverness,12-13 February, and on tour until 24 March