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The Dazzle - Review * 15 December 2015

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Playing in an extremely limited season until January 30 2016, The Dazzle is playwright Richard Greenberg's fictionalised retelling of the lives of the Collyer Brothers - infamous in New York in the early part of the 20th Century for their eccentric existence. It is a fascinating, strange, and sad portrayal of obsessive behaviour and undefined mental illness that cheerfully veers across the line that separates comedy and tragedy.  

Andrew Scott is Langley Collyer, a pianist whose ear is so attuned to music that an incorrect key can provoke a physical reaction of pain. The true genius of Andrew's performance is how it is unlike anything you've seen him play before. Critically, when the play begins there's the incredulous sense that he is forgetting his lines, as he starts, stops and repeats his words. It then sinks in that this is all part of the performance, as Langley's half formed thoughts tumble along faster than his mouth is able to express them. He is incredibly sympathetic and contemplative, but immensely frustrated. Beginning in an immaculate dinner suit and sleek hair, the undefined passage of time makes Langley wild haired and ragged, and by the close he has degraded into a tragic figure unable to look after himself; all culminating in a show stopping ending of incredible, keening grief. 

David Dawson (recently seen in the BBC's utterly brilliant The Last Kingdom as King Alfred) is Homer Collyer - a lawyer, but also his brother's keeper, minder and eventual carer. He is the straight man in many ways, but also the truly funny one. At the same time though he is a tragic figure, desperate for change of any sort and pining for something akin to a normal life. Ultimately he accepts his fate in all its escalating forms, but continues on regardless with good (and at times, very black) humour. His is a subtler performance than Andrew's, even though he is afflicted in similar ways with the heady combination of a motor-mouth and wild thought processes.  

Rounding out the trinity is Joanna Vanderham (known for sadly cancelled BBC series such as Banished alongside Russell Tovey; and The Paradise) as Millie, a beautiful but damaged young heiress, who falls in love with Langley. She is intent on escaping her circumstances by any means, even if it means falling into the arms of those potentially more emotionally damaged than herself.

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Special note must be given to the venue and set for the staging of the play. Found 111 is the perfect venue to replicate the brownstone the brothers lived in. Ascending up several flights of concrete steps, the stage itself is simply a room on the top floor. Taking a seat on one of the 132 old and slightly uncomfortable wooden dining chairs in the room, this is an extraordinarily intimate experience with the actors never more than a few feet away. The city is ever present outside, with the sounds of London mixing with those on the stage. The effect is to leave you feeling locked away in this claustrophobic space that is filled with rubbish in a small replication of the 120 tons of debris and junk that filled the living space of the real Collyer brothers. 

This is also a play that leaves you with plenty to chew on after you have left the performance, rather than something you just sit and watch. Chief among this is the meaning of the title, which is not immediately apparent. 'The Dazzle' itself can be seen as a relentless fixation on hoarding material, summed up by a single piece of string that ultimately collapses the brothers' chance of anything approaching normality through Langley's wedding to Millie. That tasselled piece of string is actually at the heart of the message of the play; utterly inconsequential and as much use to Langley as glittering jewellery is to a thieving magpie. It's stereotypical yet metaphorical all at once, and Andrew thus hangs it in pointless prominence from a chandelier over the stage at the conclusion of the first half and it's here that it stays for the remainder of the play.

The script is never damning about the Collyer brothers' existence, but instead quiet and sad towards them. The pair are different, and misunderstood, and unable to integrate into wider society; instead they are seen as oddballs and monsters to be leered at the by the unseen - but often mentioned - crowds that would congregate outside.  

In summary, we have to admit this superb, strange and thought provoking production of The Dazzle means we have now seen Andrew Scott perform on stage more than any other Sherlock cast member. Without any intended bias, we have to say that if he is in a play, and you are able to go, you simply must see it. The Dazzle is another fantastic addition to his theatrical resume, with the added bonus of a consistently scene-stealing turn from David Dawson, who matches Andrew in a superb two hander. Intimate, hilarious and extremely tragic, it is an excellent and often weird examination of the materialism that can drive human life, without ever being accusing or judgemental of those who find themselves unable to overcome their natures.

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The Dazzle is performing at Found 111 at 111 Charing Cross Road in London until January 30 2016. Tickets are still available.

 
 
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