If I could sum this production up in one word, this would be it: intimate.
Literally everything screams it: from the set, to the plot, to the theatre itself. Currently being played at Found111, The Dazzle follows the real life story of the Collyer brothers, reknowned hoarders played by Andrew Scott and David Dawson. Though, of course, taking a bit of artistic license along the way.
The set dressing and staging is incredible. In an intimate theatre, the staging makes you feel as if you have chanced upon a hoarder’s den, creating a welcoming yet claustraphobic sense. In the interval, they change the entire room so it’s unrecognisable: mountains of things engulf the stage, newspapers, bicycles, pianos! It’s a hoarder’s paradise heaven, or rather hell, as the fate of Scott’s Langley proves. In terms of seating, try and get the first rows on each level as the second seats have restricted view. We got front row to stage right and the view was great and you’re certainly up close and personal. So up close in fact that you may have Dawson saying his lines at you. As was our fate. Although I couldn’t have been less subtly dressed. I saw it in December. It’s a play set at Christmas. I’m sat front row, middle, wearing a bright red jumper with Christmas trees on!
It’s a difficult subject to dramatise, particularly in expressing the mindset of the characters. As someone with OCD, which hoarding is categorized, I immediately recognised certain aspects of this in Scott’s characterisation, to his credit. A mind obsessing, focusing on specific things, from 7 p.m. evening routines to garments of clothing and a leaf. But even the way he says the lines rings true: while focusing on specific objects, we see him jump immediately on to other things. Brain firing off one idea after another, it’s a subtle and superb characterisation on the part of Scott. Playing the comedic moments in spades, Scott shines even more in quiet moments: the final scene had me crying and it’s the unspoken things which say the most.
It’s rare for me to go to a play featuring Andrew Scott and leave saying anything other than: ‘GAHHHH, he was amazing’. But Dawson stood out in this production. And this (if you know me) is a big deal. His characterisation is sublime: half cutting, half sympathetic, it’s a tough role to play but Dawson understands and communicates it on every level. Coming out in the interval, he remains in character while stewing in the hoarder’s nest onstage. His opening monologue in the second half is heartbreaking and sitting in this space, you can’t help but feel complicit. The reveal towards the end comes out of nowhere and his mirroring of Scott in the first half works so well. He stood out for me in The Duchess of Malfi at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, but so convincing is he in the role that I didn’t recognise him until perusing the programme. Dawson is a chameleon and I look forward to seeing more from him.
Joanna Vanderham as Milly, David Dawson as Homer, and Andrew Scott as Langley. Photo by Marc Brenner
Joanna Vanderham is ethereal in the role of Milly, a mysterious woman who comes into the brothers’ lives. Though her presence is somewhat of artistic license. You can understand how both men become enamoured with her: she exudes energy, youth and a joie de vivre, from the way she’s carries herself to the way she controls the dialogue. The monologue she delivers in the second act is so controlled, the audience hangs on her everyone word. This contrasts starkly to Scott and later Dawson’s stream of consciousness. While Vanderham played it beautifully, I would critique the handling of her backstory somewhat, which while important to her trajectory is downplayed and lost amidst the other goings on in the play. Allow female characters to be strong without feeling the need to provide a reason or challenge that they’ve overcome. But overall the narrative inspired by true life is carefully crafted into a brilliant piece of storytelling and remains respectful of its origin.
Verdict: an intimate affair with the perfect cast, staging and venue, though the narrative at points feels a tad imposed and unnecessary.
The Dazzle is playing until 30th January 2016 at Found111 in Charing Cross. For more information and to find out about returns and to find out about day seats, visit the website.