“It was then that I decided to write you these letters.” The poignant words that set this story into motion, the beginning of a tour-de-force performance at HOME in Manchester by a vulnerable yet mature Will Young as Song From Far Away‘s main, and only, character Willem.
One crisp winter day in New York, Willem receives a phone call – it’s time to go home. Home to Amsterdam – to an estranged family and forgotten relationships. As he reflects on his life, unwilling to face the future, he finds himself reaching out to the brother he has lost.
The prospect of a one-man play can be somewhat intimidating – relying on one actor to steer an engaging story is a lot to expect, especially when that actor was originally unknown in the profession. But the one hour, 20 minute runtime pleasantly flies by thanks to Will Young’s endearing performance of a truly expertly-written script.
The entire play is set in one living room-type space, with a neutral colour palette and soft furnishings, inviting Will to perform in socks for the entirety. It feels as though you’re sat listening to a friend tell a story about their experience, their family, who you know in some way or another, things seem familiar – this is what makes Song From Far Away so impressive, the ability of a single character to make you feel as if you know who they’re talking about.
Although the Dutch-New York fusion accent that defines Willem seems rather jarring at first, it comes to be one of his quirks, as he embodies a charmingly flamboyant gay man, whilst clinging to a hint of familiar vulnerability which makes him necessarily sympathetic. The play is most definitely indicative of a gay man’s experience, though it isn’t marketed in this way, nor does it feel like pandering to the audience – the suggestion is subtle but definite.
The format of the play itself being told through letters from Willem to his recently deceased brother Pauli is mostly where the emotion comes from, a man unable to accept the death of his brother, something many can relate to. It is also where a lot of the humour originates – we can imagine Willem talking to his brother like this, with seemingly inappropriate pivots to humour in difficult times, the way we all do with family without the fear of judgement.
The details describing Willem’s family once he is back in his home town really work to form the character that he is, we can understand why he is how he is. The rejection from his father is uncomfortable and sad but not unfamiliar, and the way Willem deals with it gives a hint as to why he was so reluctant to go home in the first place.
The broken up monologue spoken throughout is gorgeously written, with quotes including: “A melody that grabs your heart in its hand”, making for very effective visceral imagery. The monologue is punctuated a few times with delicate song – not so much that it could be described as a musical – making for a calm transition between letters.
Song From Far Away is an emotional and intimate portrayal of grief and bereavement, but the nuances in the plot and characterisation of Willem make it particularly intriguing. You find yourself needing to know the next part – where does he go from here? What will he do next? It’s an unexpected feeling, but this little play packs a punch.
Song From Far Away is currently playing at HOME in Manchester, a fitting place for the revival of the revised edition of the play by Olivier Award-winner Simon Stephens. Championing independent theatre, film and art, HOME is a jewel in Manchester’s crown, and its state-of-the-art facilities lend themselves perfectly to this play.
Song From Far Away plays in Manchester until Saturday 11th March. You can find tickets here.