SUICIDE BY THINGS...
We are up 71 concrete steps in the old St Martin’s School of Art, eccentric creativity soaked into its grimy plaster and echoing down its grim old Hitchcock-ish iron lift-shaft. Our rickety random chairs surround a domestic interior: piano, junk, a chaise, the litter of a never-tidied hideaway. Andrew Scott, farouche and “méchant”, a man-child oddity with a painfully fastidious musical ear, is the concert pianist Langley Collyer: David Dawson, already haggard with care and half-infected with his brother’s impossible mentality, is Lang’s brother Homer. We will watch their deterioration: not without laughs but ultimately with a disturbing pity.
In America the Collyer brothers are a legend: recluses and hoarders at the turn of the century, both found dead in 1947 amid 140 tons of collected objects and rubbish, having set up tripwires and booby traps to fend off (not without justification) the persecution of their neighbours after the area went downhill in the Depression. The author Richard Greenberg blithely says that his award-winning play – a dark, disturbing imagination – is based on the lives of the brothers “about whom I know almost nothing”. Yet there is a compelling truth in this odd claustrophobic evening, the latest enterprise from the Michael Grandage Company directed by Simon Evans. Convincing truth, that is, about the sort of damaged psychology which does grow into hoarding and – you must conclude – in Lang’s case a condition well into the autistic spectrum.
For Andrew Scott is extraordinary: part childlike, often sharp, with repetitive gabbles and pauses he clutches for sameness and clings to the very tassel he first saw from his cradle; but adult too, and suffering a poetic yearning for normality. A speech about his seven o’clock evenings, looking out at the blowing curling leaves and the slow happiness of homecoming businessmen, breaks your heart. He is reaching out too, though jerkily and unreliably, towards the wholly imaginary character of Milly (Joanna Vanderham), a rich Fifth Avenue heiress who has taken a fancy to him, and who Homer feels Lang should marry, to move their stuck lives on and pay some bills rather than rely on the pianist’s “policy of caprice with booking agents”.
Vanderham – whose awful home back-story emerges, terrifyingly, in the second act – plays it wonderfully: Lang insultingly speaks of her as being “like an unremarkable narrow body of water” which it would be tranquil to live alongside, and initially her socialite psychobabble and politeness are cruelly ludicrous. But Homer’s plan, a bit like a rather madder Henry James novel, collapses in chaos due to her inclination for “a renovation” . The interval sees the prop team fill the room to the ceiling with sitll more junk – cooking pots, suitcases, drifts of paper, a birdcage, a lacrosse stick, a softball jammed in a typewriter. And Vanderham’s return in the second act is startling, alarming and tragic.
All three performances are shattering at times: the first half belongs most to Scott, with his social impossiblity and savant concentration on remembered detail (“Nothing is ever lost on me, nothing ever leaves”) . In the second, Dawson rises to a truthful grief for their isolation and co-dependence, addressing us through the fourth wall, lunging for normality, falling back, wanting “a tiny thing to happen”, anything. Scott nw becomes his albatross, simian, angry, insistent and needy; Vanderham speaks the slender hope that “We might have a final time, we three…”
Disintegration, trapped lives, slow suicide by Things. I never want to see it again but am glad I did. And glad, too, that our own too-cluttered house-move with its sentimental clinging and discarding was over before it opened.
box office http://www.thedazzle.co.uk to 30 Jan