Andrew Scott dazzles in this slightly hokey play about two eccentric brothers
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hoarder brothers who lived in a New York brownstone in the first half of the last century, gradually becoming more withdrawn and isolated until they were discovered dead underneath piles of their own boobytrap-filled junk in March 1947.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
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An outstanding production that seemed to have the perfect mix of harrowing challenging subject matter and the quick wit that meant even when you were dragged into the characters' hell you were laughing (and being encouraged to laugh) David Dawson's breadth of character was in particular to be noted. From money grabbing manipulative to shambling dying man his communication with the audience and other actors was a joy to observe. And Andrew Scott's performance as the genius savant pianist incapable of surviving on his own was poignant and a telling reminder that even in the 21st century people are neglected and unsupported at their and society's peril. Joanna Vanderham's challenge as Milly, the society young woman, who has only one direction to fall, was beautifully and subtly communicated although personally I wasn't convinced by her American accent which seemed to waiver during the performance.
To be honest I decided to see the show as I was keen to get inside 111 charing cross road and the wait was worth it. The mothballed ex art school has a freezing cold access to the theatre and cocktail bar up 71 steps, the bitter wind blowing through every cracked and ill fitting window. The old metal framed lift rises through the centre of the shaft adding to the post industrial chic feel as do the massive shocking pink arrow's pointing you on your way. To visit 111 is an experience in itself- and when you finally get to the top the cozy "hugge" feel of the low lighting comfy settles and smell of mulled wine contrast with the cracked plaster and the constant draft that you cannot escape from. Bring warm coat and scarf. Many people kept them on throughout the performance!
But this is not a criticism . It added to the experience to the ensemble performance which felt raw haunted and unforgiving. I came out feeling I'd been wrung dry. If you can get a day ticket do so as it's officially sold out!
It's sold out for a reason. The best piece of theatre I've ever seen. It has literally changed my life