Two of our best actors giving a performance of a lifetime in a fascinating and brilliantly written play about two eccentric brothers . . . .
“I find your money thrilling and I’m fond of your hair.”
Note: Splendid play from 2015 which needs another production preferably with the same cast!
Mesmerising. Andrew Scott is immediately gripping as Langley Collyer, a concert pianist with meticulous and exacting standards for the playing of music. In white tie and tails but with the bow tie undone, he rages about a note and the difference between identical and the same, which has the non musicians in the audience puzzled. His language is refined and esoteric, his personality extreme but fascinating. Our reaction is to be amused.
We are in a brownstone mansion in Harlem, New York in 1905 where Langley lives with elder brother Homer Collyer (David Dawson) who caters to the celebrity pianist of the family. A beautiful and rich young woman, Milly Ashmore (Joanna Vanderham) is dazzled by Langley and his fame, tickled by his idiosyncratic and witty conversation. He is so much more interesting than the men whom she normally meets from landed, wealthy families like her own. Milly has explored the new psychoanalysis in Vienna. Homer’s reaction to her is contrary. At first he seems jealous and rude, refusing to get her a drink but later he openly courts her on behalf of his brother, not least, we suspect for her wealth.
In a magnificent scene she dances with both brothers, their dance style revealing how intimate they would like to be. There is a running joke about how long the Minute Waltz can last as Langley’s playing gets more and more ponderous, “He couldn’t bear to let the note go,” is the explanation.
With Michael Grandage overseeing this production for his theatre company, Simon Evans directs and in this exciting new studio space, Found 111, on the top floor of the old St Martin’s School of Art building in Charing Cross Road, we are delectably close to the faces of these wonderful actors. I too was dazzled by Andrew Scott’s strange, mysterious and explosive Langley but David Dawson’s tender portrait of Homer grew and grew on me as I empathized with the pain he felt, the touching agony of his countenance and the despair he finds himself in as blindness descends.
The beautiful Joanna Vanderham is perfect as the foil to the two brothers but her part isn’t as exceptionally scripted by Richard Greenberg except when she describes the asylum she was in where she wore a straitjacket. I have really liked Greenberg’s plays which we have seen in London, especially Three Days of Rain and the baseball play Take Me Out.
In the second act we meet Milly after her fortunes have changed and we realize the abuse that she has suffered. We also hear about the rocks thrown at the house by the sons of their neighbours and start to grasp the extent of the items that Langley is beginning to hoard and the booby traps he has set up to catch intruders.
Ben Stones’ design is dominated by the grand piano and antique chairs and we start to see the apartment fill with bizarre clutter in the second act. Neil Austin’s lighting gives some wonderful illumination, full of period atmosphere and mystery.
Such is the focus of Greenberg’s play that we concentrate on the life these two brothers might have had rather than their bizarre and publicized end in 1947. Richard Greenberg is quoted in the programme as saying, “The Dazzle is based on the lives of The Collyer Brothers, about whom I know almost nothing.” I can’t stop thinking about this play and its brilliant writing, casting and direction that has rounded out these eccentric siblings and the life they might have experienced. Andrew Scott is known to many now as Moriarty in the BBC Sherlock series (and in 2019 as the hot priest) but also as Max Denbigh, a British Intelligence officer, in the latest James Bond film Spectre but it is a real joy to see him on stage again.
This acting masterclass deserves to be broadcast to cinemas. Beg, borrow, steal or queue to get a ticket and yes it is absolutely worth the climb.
Written by Richard Greenberg
Directed by Simon Evans
Director: Simon Evans
Designer: Ben Stones
Lighting Designer: Neil Austin
Composer and Sound Designer: Edward Lewis
Movement Director: Oliver Kaderbhai
Running Time: Two hours 25 minutes with an interval
Closed at Found 111
on 30th January 2016
111 Charing Cross Road
London WC2H 0DT
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at Found 111
on 15th December 2015