The Dazzle is an atmospheric journey back to New York around 1947. Produced by the Michael Grandage Company and Emily Dobbs Productions. The temporary converted space of the Old Central St Martin’s School of Art becomes the Found111 theatre. A dingy and easy to miss venue, up four flights of stairs with no lift. However, you emerge into an alluring bar called the Tipple Club (exclusively for ticket holders). Cocktails and candlelight give elegance to this otherwise dim and unexpected venue.
The stage is the size of a pin head. How the three actors manage to manoeuvre themselves around the piles of props and scenery is at times simply athletic. This clutter was important though due to the true story of the Collyer brothers. They were compulsive hoarders and eventually secluded themselves from the outside world. The smallness of the stage designed by Ben Stones represented this suffocating environment well. The audience are almost sitting upon the actors, which feels very intrusive.
The Dazzle is about the powerful fraternity between two brothers. Langley Collyer played by Andrew Scott needs to be cared for due to his compulsive disorder and shows strong signs of being autistic, even though this is never explicitly said during the play. Langley is a talented pianist, and because of his artistic quality and wealthy family background, his eccentric behaviour is adored…for a while. Homer Collyer, Langley’s brother played by David Dawson calls himself “the accountant of my brother”. The strain of Langley’s compulsions on Homer is apparent from the first scene with Langley’s continuous playing of the same one chord.
From the start, i’ts clear Langley has a condition that needs to be monitored. His brother Homer is in charge of the finances but they only have Langley’s precarious talent to pay the bills. Then comes along their saving grace Milly Ashmore. A wealthy and beautiful woman enchanted by Langley’s peculiar and musical attributes. Indeed both of the brothers react to her like an ‘enzyme’ infiltrating their close connection and causing well-needed change. Milly played by Joanna Vanderham has a difficult job as the character is clearly underwritten by playwright Richard Greenberg. Her story line of abuse is only realised in the second act where the brothers by this point are so chaotic it seems understated.
The second act is opened by a wonderful monologue by Dawson who manages to woo the audience to this brother’s side. However, Andrew Scott is clearly the star and pull of the audience for this show. Scott’s performance is like a symphony. He plays the script like a score leaving no note of variety thrown away. He has always played outcasts well and with intensity. His performance is engulfing, charming and justifies why his brother would stay with him in such squalor. Yet Dawson’s performance is equal to Scott’s. His nervousness and stinging quality is an excellent compliment to Scott’s naivety. Vanderham has the harder job of playing along with the madness but does so with aplomb.
Eventually, you become aware that the Collyer brothers are now outcasts who the neighbours actually throw things at (which Langley proceeds to collect as well). The whole set is piled further with collections and the house including its occupants has clearly deteriorated. This second act is harder to swallow as the charm subdues and the brother’s reduced into near madness.
Ultimately, The Dazzle is an eccentric and flamboyant production full of quirky characters in the smoky backdrop of old New York. The madness does grate towards the end but is saved by the heartfelt performances of the Collyer brother’s inseparable connection.
The Dazzle is playing Found111 Theatre until 1 January 2016. For more information and tickets, see www.thedazzle.co.uk. Photo by Marc Brenner.