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Song from Far Away

Simon Stephens and Mark Eitzel

Thomas Hopkins, Guy Chapman and HOME

HOME, Manchester

February 22-March 11, 2023; 1hr 20min, no interval

Will Young (Willem) in Song from Far Away at HOME. All pics: Chris Payne
Will Young (Willem) in Song from Far Away at HOME. All pics: Chris Payne

There’s a grief that clings to HOME’s Song from Far Away like a cold, wet mist that refuses to lift, no matter how long the day goes on or how bright the winter sun shines. It’s utterly truthful and punctuated with sadness, anger and confusion.

The combination of playwrights, performer and production team results in a pleasingly complex 80 minutes, which will surely stay with the audience long after the running time has elapsed.

City trader Willem (Will Young) reads to himself, to us, seven letters he has written to his brother Pauli. One letter a day from the moment his Mum calls him in New York telling him his brother is dead to the scene at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport as he prepares to leave home. Again.

Willem’s safe, neat world of cream curtains, white marble walls, stylish furniture, snazzy architectural lamps and unread coffee table books is pulled apart as the scale of his family’s dark and empty sadness is revealed. Sadness and disappointment.

Ingrid Hu’s slick set divides and closes in as the discombobulating waves of grief wash over.

Atmospheric lighting (Jane Lalljee) and use of snow, haze and wind all perfectly highlight the competing stages of mourning we all recognise. The subtle sound design (Julian Starr) effortlessly transports the audience from airport departure lounges to canalside bars.

But Director Kirk Jameson has kept Simon Stephens and Mark Eitzel’s script and songwriting at the heart of this show. Evocative imagery, a bitter-sweetly intelligent humour and pitch perfect lyrics that touch the heart – lyrics elevated by Will Young’s beautiful voice. He doesn’t sing much, but every note is hauntingly real.

Young is pretty much perfect in this role. What he is doing as an actor is so natural you could be forgiven for thinking he is not working at all when, in reality, it is clear he is at the top of his game.

Just as Willem’s experience of the world is muffled by the headphones clamped to his head, so Young’s melancholic performance is somehow removed from the events he is experiencing. Feeling, but not feeling. A lonely, truthful grief.

Though Young’s accent is probably spot on there is something in the artifice of an accent, of knowing the performer’s voice is being altered, that is a little removing for the audience. Which is a shame.

That aside, Stephens’ script remains the star. As the story comes to a close, he plays with reality; Willem’s telling of events seems to clash with the interpretation of his sister, Mina.

There’s an understanding of the complexity and transient nature of life and death that is intensely powerful.

Sometimes the job of performers and production staff is to match the level of the writing in such a way that both work unbelievably hard and get out of the way of the genius of the script. Here it is a job well done.

Info and tickets here.


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