Song From Far Away

Simon Stephens and Mark Eitzel
Thomas Hopkins, Guy Chapman and HOME
HOME, Manchester

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Song From Far Away Credit: Chris Payne
Song From Far Away Credit: Chris Payne
Song From Far Away Credit: Chris Payne
Song From Far Away Credit: Chris Payne
Song From Far Away Credit: Chris Payne

Mourning is an intensely personal experience and, as no two people cope with grief in the same way, their actions may seem inappropriate to an outside observer.

Hedge fund manager Willem (sole performer Will Young) behaves as if the world revolves around him, so the death of his younger brother is filtered through his self-absorption. The script for Song From Far Away by Simon Stephens and Mark Eitzel drip-feeds information. Willem left his native Holland for the USA a dozen years ago and resents having to return for the funeral to such an extent he prefers a hotel room to residing with his family. But Willem’s experiences upon returning home are disquieting and he feels compelled to try and communicate with his late brother in the form of a series of letters.

Song From Far Away is a monologue with song. It is never easy to appreciate song lyrics hearing them for the first time in a public place, rather than being able to concentrate in private, so the aching sense of loneliness and isolation is more conveyed by Will Young’s interpretation than the lyrics themselves.

Director Kirk Jameson takes a chilly ‘less-is-more’ approach to staging Willem’s rootless, nomadic lifestyle. There is the strong impression of a character who regards himself as above the common people. Ingrid Hu’s set is one of restrained luxury—a pair of posh chairs and fancy lamps, but windows and curtains seem to stretch to the heavens. As the script is in the form of letters, Jameson allows a brief establishing scene of Young reading them to himself to get the point across, but the bulk of the play comprises Young addressing the audience direct. Minimal shifts in lighting or props—the roof rising, curtains opening to reveal a snowy background—give an indication of time passing, but Jameson prefers to let Young’s performance push the story along.

Young plays Willem as someone who does not really understand himself. There is a defensiveness in his approach of getting his retaliation in first—rejecting a lover before he can be rebuffed himself—and a smug sense of superiority. Asked what he buys and sells for a living, Willem replies ‘countries’ or at least cities. Young’s body language is condescending—looking down on his fellow airplane passengers in cheaper seats. He has cut himself off from his origins so effectively, his accent is more American than European, and he is very pleased with his reinvention.

Young communicates with the audience as if addressing an equal, confident they will share and enjoy his waspish opinions on his family. He is so far divorced from norms of behaviour, he seems to expect the audience will sympathise when he is angry about his brother’s passing, not out of a sense of loss but just because of the inconvenience of having to return to his family and be exposed to their raw grief. Frustrated by having to meet his brother’s distressed friends, he comforts himself that some may be cute.

The script includes hints Willem has a growing awareness his behaviour is extreme—his heavy drinking and willingness to engage in casual sex. Willem’s sister suggests the root cause of his problems may simply be he is a prick.

Yet the gentle way in which Willem recalls being told human vocal cords evolved primarily for singing rather than speaking reveals a thoughtful, reflective aspect to the character. Young picks up on the clues with a slightly baffled approach, trying to understand why Willem’s niece would regard him with affection without apparent reason, or coming to terms with the lover he rejected not carrying a torch for him after all. Song From Far Away is too realistic to allow for redemption, but Young’s conflicted approach towards the conclusion suggests there is at least hope for change.

Song From Far Away is a sympathetic examination of a character with whom it is hard to sympathise.

Reviewer: David Cunningham