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Review | Song From Far Away | Home Manchester | 25/02/2023

Perhaps best known for his stage adaption of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Simon Stephens, along with Mark Eitzel, present Song From Far Away. Originally finding a home at the Young Vic in 2015, this has been revived and staged at the quirky HOME theatre in Manchester.

This one-person play is centred around Willem (Will Young) a wealthy businessman, originally from Amsterdam but now living in New York. After 12 years in the big apple, he has cut off from his roots both emotionally and physically, until he receives the news that his brother Pauli has died suddenly. Going back home for the funeral we experience grief through Willems perspective, as he talks to Pauli through a series of letters.

Let’s make this explicitly clear from the outset, this is not simply a singer ‘having a go’ at acting, Will Young is a tour de force. Having made his theatrical debut at the Royal Exchange Theatre in 2007 in The Vortex, and having received an Olivier’s nomination for Cabaret in 2013, he is certainly no stranger to the stage. Young is quite simply fantastic, giving a masterclass of acting in this role. His portrayal of Willem (and accent) is utterly convincing. This doesn’t mean that his character is likeable, in fact quite the opposite, which is ok and somewhat refreshing.

Willem believes strongly that the world revolves around him. Yet even with his lack of self-awareness and empathy, he remains strangely relatable at times. Young play’s Willem to perfection, in an honest, unapologetic and often humorous way. He may think himself above most people, but by talking to the audience as equals, we are endeared towards him as the audience hang off his every word. Young makes it clear when to laugh and when not, changing his tone accordingly which also gives a potential indication to his fragility. This was only intensified with Julian Starr’s sound design, taking sentences from being heard softly to being hauntingly echoed around the auditorium, culminating in extremely powerful and evocative moments.

Set design by Ingrid Hu centred around a stark hotel suite with fantastically high ceilings, giving a feeling of emptiness, echoing Willem’s unempathetic emotional norm. Conversely, at other points the ceiling lowers, giving a suffocatingly claustrophobic sensitivity. It captures the unique nature of grief beautifully.

A powerful moment comes as the enormity of the situation dawns, with Willem realising he will have to acknowledge his brother’s death in future conversation; be it in weeks, months or years. For anyone who has lost a loved one, this feels real, relevant and unbelievably relatable. It is in these moments that we are endeared towards Willem, despite not necessarily liking his character traits. He is perhaps not as emotionally mature or aware of his emotions as he would care to realise, feeling nothing when meeting friend’s new-borns; commenting that life begins, ends and doesn’t need commenting on. This is in complete contradiction with him realising that his own brother’s death will inevitably be brought up in future.

Whilst he is less concerned with how affects others emotions, telling his ex that he had gotten fat, he is more concerned about his own circumstance, commenting selfishly that he wouldn’t have wanted to have been with Pauli when he passed. It is this honesty that is strangely engaging, allowing Young to command the audience effortlessly for the full 80 minutes.

Interspersed with the dialogue are short moments of acapella song. These are truly beautiful and remind us of Youngs incredible singing talent and really help elevate the production to the next level.

Scenes of snow and fireworks are beautifully done, thanks to clever lighting design from Jane Lalljee. Whilst these moments of natural beauty occur, Willem doesn’t allow himself to go outside to interact with them, preferring to spectate from a distance. Perhaps these years in a lonely foreign city have affected him more than he realises? In this sense, this piece gives the audience a lot to think about. At the same time, it doesn’t inspire a strong emotional response from the audience to the loss of Pauli. Because of this, I initially wondered if I should have felt ‘more’ upon leaving the theatre. It is however the fact that we aren’t given the more predictable grief narrative that makes this show interesting. It is in reality less about grief and more an introspective look at Willem as a person (not that he realises this himself), that make this show so powerful.

'Song From Far Away' is on at HOME until 11 March 2023. Full booking info below:

Photo Credit: Chris Payne

Note: My ticket was gifted. Irrespective of whether a show is gifted or bought, I always ensure that my reviews are fair and based on my honest opinion alone.


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