There's something uniquely site-specific about this production, set in the now derelict interior of the old Central St Martins building on Charing Cross Road. Richard Greenberg's play tells the story of the Collier Brothers (no, me neither) who lived in a Grey Gardens-esque state in a dilapidated Brownstone in Harlem, where in 1947 they were found dead crushed by their collective rubble. In modern day terms, it's like an episode of 'Extreme Hoarders' that goes a little too far - those with OCD will fidget at the casual destruction and growing clutter.
Greenberg attempts to portray an atmosphere play, one that relies heavily on character sketches rather than plot or narrative. It's an incredibly slow burn, and by the time we get to the much more interesting second act, we just don't care about either the characters or their unique situation. It's simply not interesting enough of a piece to warrant investment in overly long and oblique speeches that bat above their emotional weight when the groundwork simply hasn't been done to provide an access point.
Imagine a play that pulls together all of Dickens' eccentric side characters and has them mingle together. Sounds fascinating on paper - but with the absence of normality against which their eccentricities can be observed, they end up feeling thin and sorely underdeveloped.
The overall tone conflicts itself, especially between the two acts, and Greenberg ends up relying on a mixture of implausible plot devices to keep the slim narrative moving. Perhaps it would work better as a one act - there was certainly not enough to hold my attention and the saggy moments in the text prove just as threatening as the mountain of rubbish that begins to escalate out of control.
Those familiar with London's diverse fringe theatre market won't be too surprised at the intimacy of the space, although eyebrows may be raised at the ticket price, which seems above fringe average. Production wise, the set is modest and doesn't feel particularly innovative or compelling. Given the surroundings, a more immersive design could have been achieved that would perhaps draw the audience into the world more effectively. I've rarely been so uncomfortable at the theatre - my slatted beach chair (the auditorium is made up of a collection of Peter Kay's 'emergency chairs' to deliver the 'hokey hipster' vibe) emphasising the somewhat painful experience. It's first come first served however, so get there early if you want a cushion or a swivel chair...
To me, the three performers felt like they were each operating in their own play. There was no collective energy or performance decision, everything was overly mannered and at times quite self indulgent. David Dawson's Homer was by far the most interesting performer, yet no one else was on his playing field. It proved a frustrating watch with all three constantly tugging in different directions. Andrew Scott delivers the most mannered performance, chewing his words with a frantic accent that for some reason just doesn't read in the space. Joanna Vanderham suffers to bring an unlikeable and thinly sketched character to life and I couldn't see any justification in her choices, and her second act transformation had little return.
Found111 is in intriguing space and one that I'm looking forward to seeing being used in the future, but in this instance I found little razzle or dazzle in this underdeveloped character sketch.
"This story of two society brothers turned recluses is an extraordinary real-life American gothic – but the underlying message is quietly troubling."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Simon Evans directs with a pitch-perfect blend of tragi-comic rigour and piercing tenderness."
Claire Allfree for The Telegraph
"Frequent flowery speechifying does not compensate for the flimsy plot and although Simon Evans’ production is intimate the characters remain psychologically opaque.."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard