By Jay Darcy
I cry at everything. From advertisements about unfortunate children to the Hamilton soundtrack. You can understand my surprise, then, that I did not cry at Song From Far Away – a play about a man who writes letters to his late brother, starring Will Young, who recently lost his twin brother to suicide – especially because I, myself, have two brothers.
But Song From Far Away is not actually about loss, per se, but, rather, loss is used as a vehicle for introspection. Young’s Willem, though striking, is not exactly likeable. He’s shallow, self-centred, and lacks empathy – thus he himself is not sympathetic.
The action takes place in an opulent but clinical and characterless hotel room (with furniture supplied by Arighi Bianchi; you might see the company’s interesting building on the Manchester to London train, as it stops in Macclesfield). The hotel room is the very embodiment of “superficial” and a visual representation of Willem, who himself is dressed in beige.
Ingrid Hu’s set design must be applauded. An 80-minute one-man show, Song From Far Away could have been both monotonous and intense, but the moving, beautifully designed set keeps you captivated.
There are subtle scene changes, symbolised by a change in music or lighting; the monologue is gently broken up; it is clear when a new letter begins but the change is not jarring.
The tall, beige curtains move quite often, symbolising scene changes, corresponding with the time of day, or to suggest a breeze creeping through the window. Early on, snow begins falling from above. The set, though beige in colour, sits in a black box; the hotel room, Willem’s little haven, is cloaked in darkness. The white snow, then, contrasts the darkness of the outside world.
The most visually striking scene, however, had to be the one with fireworks. Willem looked outside as smoke clouded the large gap in between the curtains. Several lights, all different in colour, shone upon (or down at) the smoke, creating a multi-coloured paradise in the deep, black abyss. There were a few brief flashes, representing fireworks in the distance. I was entirely enthralled.
In the post-show drinks reception, I had the pleasure of telling Jane Lalljee how much I loved her lighting design. Lalljee did the lighting for another show we reviewed recently: Grandmother’s Closet at Queer Contact.
Moments like these, in which Willem was silent and we were asked to focus on the visuals, helped break up the meaty monologue.
The monologue, itself, was delivered in a variety of ways. The play lives up to both its title and its star casting, with Young delivering a couple of beautiful songs. It is here that Willem shows his vulnerability; Young succeeds at breaking down Willem’s walls and revealing the torture and anguish behind the self-centred and cold-hearted character.
There was one particularly intense moment early on, in which Willem rages about his brother leaving him and forcing him to travel home and deal with his difficult family (in actuality, Willem appears to be the difficult one). His brother is dead, and all Willem can think about is his personal inconveniences. Throughout the course of the play, he goes through various stages of grief – intensely.
Thus, the play is elegiac, poetic and at times touching but not quite moving. I did not shed a single tear. The play masterfully avoids the easy sentimentality of death. Ostensibly, it’s about a man losing his distant brother, but, perhaps selfishly (which Willem certainly is), Willem uses his brother’s death as a vehicle for much-needed self-reflection.
Song From Far Away is self-aware, thought-provoking, and existential. It is as wonderfully performed as it is written and designed, with Young singing a very different song to those he sang in Cabaret – all while reminding us why he is an Olivier nominee.
Song From Far Away runs at HOME (Theatre 1) until March 11.
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