Daz­zled by a voyeuris­tic de­light

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - THE­ATRE JOHN NATHAN

Found 111

THIS IS the­atre of the close-up-and­per­sonal kind. Richard Green­berg’s play, first seen in New York in 2002, is a win­dow into the lives, home and minds of two hoard­ing, ec­cen­tric broth­ers, Lan­g­ley and Homer Col­lyer. Played here by An­drew Scott and David Daw­son re­spec­tively, the bod­ies of their real-life coun­ter­parts were found among a life­time’s junk and jum­ble in their Har­lem house in 1947.

The dis­cov­ery ce­mented the sib­lings into the an­nals of New York lore, though Green­berg is very quick to con­fess he did lit­tle or no re­search for his play.

“The Daz­zle is based on the lives of The Col­lyer Broth­ers, about whom I know al­most noth­ing,” he says in his au­thor’s note. This is the disclaimer equiv­a­lent of hav­ing your cake and eat­ing it: that is, tap­ping into the no­to­ri­ety of a real-life sub­ject yet ab­solv­ing your­self of the re­spon­si­bil­ity to rep­re­sent it ac­cu­rately. Clever. And in this case, also re­ward­ing.

Be­cause, with­out hav­ing to worry about de­tails or let­ting the facts get in the way of a good story, Green­berg is free to ex­plore the tragic self-de­struc­tion of th­ese ob­ses­sives.

To be a mem­ber of the au­di­ence in Si­mon Evans’s en­gross­ing pro­duc­tion is to be an un­in­vited guest in the Col­lyer home. Ben Stone’s de­sign sug­gests the faded grandeur of the broth­ers’ Har­lem house with a splash of wood-pan­elling. But it’s the space it­self, a pleas­ingly ne­glected top floor of a build­ing that was for­merly part of St Martin’s School of Art, that trans­ports us. It’s ac­cessed by climb­ing a stair­well that re­volves around an al­most in­fin­itely deep, caged though dis­used lift-shaft. Even at this height, the Char­ing Cross Road traf­fic fil­ters into the build­ing adding to the sense of an out­side world hos­tile to the sen­si­tive souls within. Oc­ca­sion­ally, the broth­ers come un­der phys­i­cal at­tack from neigh­bours who chuck stuff through the win­dows, just be­cause the in­hab­i­tants are a bit weird.

Both men are su­per in­tel­li­gent and en­ter­tain­ingly ar­tic­u­late. Scott’s Lan­g­ley is the tal­ented one. He is a con­cert pi­anist whose art qual­i­fies him for the in­dul­gence of oth­ers. The oth­ers here be­ing his long-suf­fer­ing brother Homer (Daw­son) who pro­tects him from the ba­nal­ity of other hu­mans and a beau­ti­ful Fifth Av­enue heiress (Joanna Van­der­ham) who ill-ad­vis­edly falls for Lan­g­ley. Though liv­ing with her, Lan­g­ley con­cludes, would be no more in­ter­est­ing than liv­ing along side a “small un­in­ter­est­ing body of wa­ter.”

If the play is ver­bose, it is also brimful of daz­zling di­a­logue. Per­haps most mem­o­rable is when Lan­g­ley de­scribes his and his brother’s de­cline in terms of tragedy. “Tragedy is when a few peo­ple sink to the level where most peo­ple al­ways are,” which is about as bril­liant a def­i­ni­tion as you could hope for. I won­der what his def­i­ni­tion of com­edy would be.

Scott, whose screen roles in­clude Mo­ri­arty in Sher­lock and the con­spir­a­to­rial C in the lat­est Bond film, Spec­tre, is an ac­tor who spe­cialises in the un­hinged. And he plays Lan­g­ley like a high-func­tion­ing Asperger’s suf­ferer. Sen­tences are in­ter­rupted by a con­stant flow of thoughts. And there is that in­abil­ity to em­pathise with oth­ers, even his brother Homer, whose life has been de­voted to serv­ing him.

In­deed, Homer’s is the real tragedy here. And Daw­son bril­liantly cap­tures the bit­ter­ness of a man haunted by the re­al­i­sa­tion that his life has been wasted. By now, the broth­ers are like va­grants in their own home. And, af­ter their fi­nal, mov­ing end, we spill on to Char­ing Cross Road with a sense of be­ing priv­i­leged by the com­pany we have kept and, as is of­ten the case with the most close-up-and per­sonal the­atre, slightly shamed by our own voyeurism.

Mem­o­rable: An­drew Scott and Joanna Van­der­ham in ‘The Daz­zle’

In­tense: An­drew

Scott

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