Review by Daz Gale
Will Young might be more familiar to people as the inaugural winner of Pop Idol in 2022, going on to rack up countless number one singles and albums in the two decades since, but he is no stranger to the other kid of stage. In the past, he has dabbled in theatre in shows such as Cabaret and Strictly Ballroom and now makes the long and winding road back to the stage for the one-man show Song From Far Away. Did his turn in this show light my fire or did it make me want to leave (right now)?
Song From Far Away first premiered in Brazil in 2015 and made its London debut at the Young Vic later that same year. This new production played at HOME in Manchester earlier this year, wowing audiences and critics alike, once again proving the importance and vitality of regional theatre. It now moves to London for a limited run at Hampstead Theatre.
Written by Simon Stephens and Mark Eitzel, Song From Far Away is a performed as a constant monologue with a constant speech occasionally broken up through elements of song. Telling the story of Willem who gets a phonecall while at home in New York to find out his brother has died. He makes the journey back to Amsterdam where he has to face the family and life he left behind. Reflecting on his life, he writes letters to his departed brother.
The role of Willem can be fairly demanding as it requires a certain amount of delicacy and sensitivity. Will Young thrives at this – giving a quiet and nuanced portrayal as the character. Having to come to terms with mixed emotions as he deals with the loss of his brother, Will shows enormous range with his acting ability – his initial nonchalant approach gives way to more conflicting feelings and one powerful moment where he snaps, shifting the tone completely in an utterly captivating way. Wills performance is constantly emotional and always fascinating to watch in this truly believable portrayal which showcases Will to be as accomplished an actor as he is a singer.
Kirk Jameson’s fantastic direction makes the most of a deceptively static stage, instead making the most of Will Youngs exquisite acting full of small choices that leave a big impression. Ingrid Hu’s set design is full of clever tricks including a beautiful weather effect in a key and memorable moment. Andrew Exeter’s lighting is illuminating in every sense of the word, while Julian Starr’s sound design lets Willem’s words be heard as clearly as they are meant, with every tremble or infliction used for maximum impact.
It is Simon Stephens and Mark Eitzel’s writing that really impresses here. Rather than play out a shocking and life-changing effect in an overstated, dramatic fashion, they instead make the bold choice to strip it back for a character whose emotions bubble away, rarely coming to the surface. This makes the moments where they do rise up all the more sensational to witness. A delicate, quiet and sensitive portrayal of coping with grief and reconnecting with a life you left behind, its quiet and understated nature is refreshingly different but all the better for it.
It is clear to see why Song From Far Away won so many people over when it was performed earlier this year. Will Young gives a career-best performance in a beautiful, touching and poignant performance. With delicate writing and stunning direction, this is a refreshingly intense piece which speaks to the power of performance and the fragility of life. A blessing that London audiences get to see such a special show, experience this wonderful show while you still can.
Song From Far Away plays at Hampstead Theatre until 22nd July. Tickets from hampsteadtheatre.com
Photos by Mark Senior