I’ll be honest, I’d not heard of the Collyer Brothers before I booked to see ‘The Dazzle’ and in an attempt to come to the play open minded, I didn’t find out much more. So other than knowing that they were slightly ‘eccentric’ and hoarded newspapers, I knew little elsee.
So I was relieved to read in the programme this note from playwright Richard Greenberg:
“The Dazzle is based on the lives of The Collyer Brothers, about whom I know almost nothing”
True or not, it is probably a better way to experience this play, becoming immersed in their world in the particular way this production allows.
The setting for this produciogof The Dazzle is responsible for a lot of it’s magic. Housed in Found 111, the original building of St Martins art school, and a building I’ve often walked past and wondered about. The audience is taken first to the bar space The Tipple Club, which I highly recommend for sheltering from the rain as we did. On theme, inspired by the era of the Collyer Brothers, it’s a great setting to get in the mindset before winding up further stairs to the performance space.
Small, scattered with mis-matched chairs around a pile of mis-matched furniture and a piano in the centre of the room. This slightly run down space of bare walls feels transformed into the living room of the Collyers (if admittedly a fairly chilly one). The actors have to scramble over the tightly packed furniture, and avoid falling into the laps of the audience. (Not that I’m sure many of the audience would object to either Andrew Scott or David Dawson in their laps) Which also makes for a claustrophobic experience of being encased in the apartment with the brothers, brilliant fun to feel like you are peering in on the action when times are eccentric but fun, and all the more uncomfortable and harder to bear when things go wrong.
The play is as engaging as the space, with Greenburg’s dialogue flying from the outset. A verbal tennis match between brothers Langley (Scott) and Homer (Dawson) means that the slightest drop of a beat would throw whole scenes off. The two work the language masterfully, and the writing flies from the outset. At times impossible to keep up with thoughts from, in particular Andrew Scott’s Langley flit from one topic to the next with little rhyme or reason, establishing the strange eccentric world the brothers live in. Both actors master this, and establish their identifies quickly. And, although the hoarding and eccentric lifestyle is the prior knowledge many take in, and the initial scenes showcase Langley’s eccentric behaviour in particular (with excellent comedic piano playing) quickly the biggest intrigue is the relationship between the brothers.
‘Fraternal love is a powerful thing’ Homer repeats throughout the first act to Milly (Joanna Vanderham) a suitor to Langley, and later to Homer. Although Homer pushes for her to be involved in their lives, it quickly becomes clear that nobody is able to truly integrate into the world the Collyer brothers created for themselves. Scott and Dawson create their relationship perfectly, it is ever evolving and never entirely clear or defined, but there is a real sense of the emotional bond between the brothers. Their co-dependency, the need for Langley to be looked after, and Homer’s need to look after him. Even as Homer appears desperate for a life outside, something in him can’t quite let his brother go entirely. Likewise at the cusp of marrying Milly it is Homer and their home life that pulls Langley back in. Although in their verbal sparring they have a great deal to say to each other, there is also a great deal of strength in what isn’t said. As the audience sees only the snapshots of their lives, trapped in their living room as the brothers have trapped themselves, there is so much to wonder about in their narrative of what went before, and what happens between the moments we see. It could be seen as frustrating, having little in the way of clear narrative, but actually the relationship portrayed between them gives the audience more than enough.
Dawson and Scott drive this piece masterfully. Scott in the more exuberant role-giving life to Langley’s particular peculiarities and affectations, but to disregard this showier part as less skilled does Scott a disservice. His skill as an actor shows these broader, often highly entertaining elements of Langley’s character-his wild piano playing, odd mannerisms and wilder hair- but there is a quieter side to his character that underscores the bigger moments that is masterfully played. Dawson in his portryal of Homer, has less of the showy moments that Scott has as Langley, but is instead quietly mersmerising in a character who has no less non-conformity and eccentricity, but has just found different way to express them than his more exuberant brother, and Dawson’s quietly twitchy performance the perfect counterpoint to Scott’s louder whirlwind. When bouncing off Joanna Vanderham as Milly they both soar with comic timing balanced with the darker side of their characters. It is however the final scene between the brothers, as Homer slips towards his untimely death and Langley is to be left alone, that the real strength of the partnership shines. The heartbreak and the damage the life the Collyer Brothers chose for themselves is brought painfully and starkly to life by Scott and Dawson and ends the play with a profound grief and sadness.
The Dazzle is a fascinating play-impossible to keep up with at times but brilliantly entertaining, slipping then into darker and ultimatly heartbreaking territory. The play raises questions about being different, and the affect it has on a person. In feeling so outside of the rest of the world the Brothers retreated into themselves, in seeking solace ultimatly they also led themselves to heartbreak. Should we revel in being different? should we break with what gives us comfort for what may be better for us? these are just a couple of the questions The Dazzle raised, and that still have no answers.
What is certain is that Dawson and Scott rise to the challenge of Greenberg’s play expertely. The play is wonderfully housed in Found 111 and it’s truly an experience to share the space, and be brought inside the world of the Collyer brothers for a couple of hours.