This review is long overdue, but as this production has the rest of January to run, I thought it still deserved to be written. On hearing that two of my favourite theatre actors were to be in a play together, in such a small venue, I was very excited to see this new play towards the end of last month.
Richard Greenberg’s play introduces us to the Collyer Brothers, who lived in Harlem for decades in the early 20th century and by the end of their lives in seclusion. Little is known about their day to day lives for that reason, but Greenberg takes what is known about them (that they became hoarders and died within the apartment, found buried under 140 tonnes of junk) and uses this as a basis for imagining what lives they may have led. It’s certainly a fascinating insight in to the bond between two very quirky and ultimately tragic characters.
Langley (played by Andrew Scott) is an accomplished pianist, who at the start of the play is growing ever more frustrated with and distant from the world. The world for him moves at a much slower pace; a very different rhythm to society around him and you soon sense that the less he has to do with it, the better. It is left to his brother, Homer (played by David Dawson), a lawyer by trade, who has taken it upon himself to act as his brother’s financial adviser, but as time goes on he effectively becomes his carer, doing almost everything for Langley. Their relationship is a complex one; they clearly care a great deal for one another, but also grow ever more frustrated with each other.
In to this dynamic enters a young, attractive New York heiress Milly (played by Joanna Vanderham). She is infatuated with and fascinated by Langley, much to Homer’s annoyance, although as the play goes on, you begin to suspect his hostility towards Milly masks other feelings he may have for her. Hers is a difficult role, as Milly is not as developed as the brothers and is used as a way of provoking reactions and situations between Langley and Homer, as without her, you could imagine them sitting in silence, saying and doing very little indeed. Vanderham is very good in her role, bringing a youthful innocence and hopeful optimism in to the play, which is a nice contrast to the characters of both Langley and Homer.
However, the play’s success depends on the strength of the two male leads and both Andrew Scott and David Dawson are very good indeed. More importantly, they have a convincing chemistry on stage, bringing the eccentricities of the brothers to life as well as their bond to each other. It’s not difficult to imagine them as brothers, which is pivotal for this story and its emotional depth.
Andrew Scott is in familiar territory here, playing another quirky character. Through his performance we see Langley’s withdrawal from society, as he becomes more and more reclusive and it’s certainly sad to watch. Scott knows exactly how to turn a line to bring out the humour, frustration or sadness that Langley is feeling, as well as adding little nuances, expressions and mannerisms to his performance to imbed the sense of someone whose mind works on a different plain to everyone else.
However it was David Dawson who moved me when watching The Dazzle. One can imagine Homer may have had a much more sociable and happy life were it not for his brother and there are moments, as the junk accumulates around him, that you truly feel his sense of being trapped in his life. However, there is never any doubt that he’ll leave Langley and his tenderness towards him despite his frustrations is lovely to watch. It is through this impressive performance that he carries the emotional weight of the play’s conclusion, something he achieves superbly. From first seeing him on stage at the RSC as Romeo in 2009, he has never disappointed me and certainly didn’t in The Dazzle.
The claustrophobic mood of the play is perfectly captured and enhanced by Ben Stiles’s set design. Located at FOUND111 on Charing Cross Road in the old Central St Martins School of Art, the theatre is located at the top of this warehouse-style building, in an incredibly intimate space. The set is simple to begin with – chair, chaise longue, piano and some lamps, papers and clutter. In such a small space, as an audience member you feel part of the Collyer’s apartment, sitting on wooden chairs on three sides of the space, observing their existence. As the amount of junk accumulates for the second half, so does the sense of claustrophobia and isolation that came to signify their lives.
The play certainly wasn’t what I had expected. I think the title had made me think it would be a light-hearted, humourous play. There are moments of humour (mainly coming from Scott) which help alleviate the tragic inevitability of their lives, but I cannot tell you this is an easy play to watch. It’s challenging, but also fascinating and with two such strong actors within a few feet of you, conveying such emotion, it felt like a privilege to watch them. Plus with day seats at only £10, it really is a bargain to see such talent. I’m looking forward to seeing it again towards the end of the run to see how it has developed.
The Dazzle continues its run at FOUND111 on Charing Cross Road until 30th January. Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (including a 15 minute interval). Although advance tickets have sold out, days seats are available at 6 p.m. before each performance, along with any returns. Visit the website for more information.