Langley and Homer Collyer were a fascinating pair of real life eccentrics, two wealthy hoarder brothers who lived in a New York brownstone in the first half of the last century, gradually becoming more withdrawn and isolated until they were discovered dead underneath piles of their own boobytrap-filled junk in March 1947.
US writer Richard Greenberg’s 2000 play ‘The Dazzle’ – receiving its belated UK premiere in this atmospheric garret in the former St Martin’s School of Art – is a kind of ‘A Beautiful Mind’ spin on their story. Here Langley (Andrew Scott) – in real life a piano tuner who became his lawyer brother’s carer after the latter lost his sight – is a brilliant, presumably autistic concert pianist whose combination of brutal honesty and maddening, enchanting fascination with the minutiae of life leaves him dependant upon the marginally more worldly Homer (David Dawson) for support. Until one day… a rich, beautiful young woman (Joanna Vanderham’s Milly) wanders into their lives.
It’s not a brilliant play: overstating Langley’s genius and peculiarities is fine, but the Milly character – who I’m pretty certain is fictional – is a fairly wretched plot device, a thinly sketched poor little rich girl who announces her feeling for Langley via that time honoured cliche of catching him unawares by whapping her boobs out.
And yet, and yet: Greenberg’s Collyers really are fascinating, and whatever the faults of the play it offers a platform for a truly wonderful performance from Scott. His Langley is an oddball but not a victim: Scott brings the same unflappable assurance to the part that he does to his roles in ‘Sherlock’ or ‘Moriarty’. There’s something primal, pure, genuinely admirable about his ability to stare at a leaf all day or get lost in a single note of music – he has a rare, profound sense of purpose.
The play has its faults and Simon Evans’s production sometimes feels like an unusually wacky episode of ‘Frasier’. But a blazing performance from Scott and very creditable turns from his co-stars in this fringe theatre-sized space means ‘The Dazzle’ shines bright in the dull winter