Review: Song From Far Away (Hampstead Theatre)

Will Young, who won TV singing competition Pop Idol over two decades ago, and who hadn’t stepped on stage to act since 2013 until he joined Song From Far Away at HOME Manchester, proves his acting chops in this mannered and measured monologue.

He plays Willem, a 34-year-old gay Dutchman working in finance in New York. He’s been away from Amsterdam for years but receives a phone call concerning the sudden death of his brother, Pauli.

Set in an anonymous suite in the Lloyd Hotel, with towering curtains, ceilings that lower, and functional furniture, Willem unfolds his story by means of a sequence of letters to his late brother.

This is no redemptive family reunion at the graveside: both Willem’s parents seem disappointed in his and his inability to show his feelings. As this play (by Simon Stephens and Mark Eitzel) progresses, we see a man stuck in life and in grief.

Production photo from Song From Far Away

Parallels will inevitably be drawn between the character and the actor as Young lost his own brother in recent years; one wonders how this experience informed the development of this revival.

There is wit in Song From Far Away, and honesty too, as Willem’s attempt to reconnect with those past (and briefly connect with those in the present) lead to awkward moments and misgivings.

We learn little about Pauli, just that he lived at home with posters, books, and records. We don’t feel a connection between the brothers. In fact, Willem refers to his death as ‘inconvenience’ at one point while acknowledging that identifying a family health problem might save his own life.

Young’s Willem feels jaded and world-weary. He drinks too much and socialises too little. His niece offers him a hug when he can’t reciprocate, yet casual sex seems easy as emotions are not involved.

Production photo from Song From Far Away

The title of the play may suggest a song might appear, and one does, in snatches, in which Young’s vocal ability allows Willem to open up, just a little.

Ingrid Nu’s design and Kirk Jameson”s direction allows a limited space to mimic Willem’s raw state of mind with a flurry of snow, a bank of what look like car headlights, a suffocating spotlight.

Song From Far Away is a revival that is restrained in energy but intensely emotional. Young’s performance is both waspish and wounded and perfectly paced.

Song From Far Away continues in Hampstead Theatre’s Main House until 22 Jul – tickets here.


Image credit: Mark Senior