Stuart King

Review: SONG FROM FAR AWAY at Hampstead Theatre

Will Young last graced a London stage back in 2013, playing the Emcee in Rufus Norris’ acclaimed production of Cabaret. Over the coming month, he’ll be appearing amidst Hampstead Theatre’s leafy Swiss Cottage environs, playing Willem a Dutch banker living in New York, who receives a call telling him he must return home to Amsterdam.

Will Young in Song From Far Away at Hampstead Theatre. Photo Mark SeniorWill Young in Song From Far Away at Hampstead Theatre. Photo Mark Senior

Essentially a monologue with a melancholy song — Young’s voice is as searingly beautiful as ever — the format is ideally suited to the performer, who in a recent interview (perhaps semi-jokingly) declaimed himself a narcissist. It might be argued that most high-profile performers fall into the category, but the confidence in that statement also reflects a measure of learned humility and life experience when we hear a successful artist openly own their constant need to be the focus of attention.

The one man show, seemingly predicated on the well-worn phrase “Grief is the price we pay for loving” (or variations thereof) explores the human condition and its capacity to defend itself against the perils of loving and the subsequent excesses of personal evaluation and self-criticism. Young’s effete embodiment of Willem casts a bitter shadow across the stylishly dressed lounge set of gossamer back-drapes and expensive showroom furniture. His inflected east coast delivery of carping, disdainful observations and recollections, renders him aloof and instantly dislikable despite the attempts at human engagement which induce a litany of awkward moments. Through re-reading the letters which he subsequently penned to his dead brother, we live through the experience of a one night encounter, his walks through Amsterdam, the funeral, and perhaps most tellingly, the stilted interactions with his parents.

Simon Stephens (responsible for adapting The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time for the stage) co-wrote the piece with Mark Eitzel and this revival under the guidance of Kirk Jameson has already enjoyed critical and commercial success in the director’s hometown of Manchester. In a little under 90mins, we journey with Willem through his wry detachments, the ups and downs of sibling jealousy and paternal hostility, but by the end we are barely any nearer to knowing and understanding the real man beneath the carapace, for tragic figures often don’t dare reveal themselves. Just how much of Young himself is subsumed in his playing of Willem is uncertain — and the uncertainty here, feels the very essence of an intentioned enigma.