Song from Far Away, Will Young, Hampstead Theatre, 2023
Photo: Mark Senior
  • Theatre, Drama
  • Recommended


Song from Far Away

4 out of 5 stars

Will Young is excellent in Simon Stephens’s wistful monologue about a banker returning home to face his past


Time Out says

Ten years ago, Simon Stephens was probably the most performed living playwright in the country, his hugely prolific oeuvre stretching from Chekovian naturalism to wild experimentalism to his bonafide global smash, the National Theatre adaptation of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’. I swear one year I counted seven London premieres of his plays.

He’s slowed down now, but perhaps we’re on the cusp of the first wave of revivals with Kirk Jamieson’s production of ‘Song from far Away’. The naturalistic monologue was first seen at the Young Vic in 2015, in a wilfully downbeat, delicate production from the great Ivo van Hove that cast Dutch actor Eelco Smits in the role of Willem, a gay banker who traded Amsterdam for New York 12 years ago and is now dealing with a series of very complicated feelings following the death of his brother. 

If that version was wispy and intimate, Jamieson’s revival – first seen in Manchester earlier this year – amps things up with a bigger, funnier, more muscular Willem in the form of pop star Will Young. He’s got established stage chops, having taken leading roles in a couple of big musicals and while this is his most nuanced and restrained turn to date, I think the oomph added by his populist background is a definite strength over the original production. 

He talks in a transatlantic drawl: perhaps easier for Young than a Dutch accent, but very effective, suggesting a man who has done his damnedest to totally reinvent himself. His Willem is emotionally detached, drifting dutifully home like a ghost, never stopping to engage with what all this means to him – what his brother meant to him. He’s also funny and waspish, distant, but not afraid to snipe snarkily about the people from his past. 

Presumably, Willem is, on some level, happy in New York. But the poignancy of the play is that we never see that world, only his trip home. And this isn’t some cheesy TV movie plot in which Willem reconnects with his roots: he struggles to relate to his parents, is scolded by his sister for acting weird, turns down the opportunity to stay longer, and only really feels comfortable in the company of his young niece. There are hints as to why he left: a distant breakup with a lover who has moved on; a complicated relationship with his brother. He never finds resolution, but he does come to understand that it is impossible to pretend none of this exists. 

It’s been widely noted that Young lost his own brother a few years ago, and clearly that provides some fuel for his excellent performance. There’s a fearlessness to it: he’s not afraid to make Willem funny and he’s not afraid to make Willem a dick – we can still feel his pain, perhaps more so than he can. And, of course, he can sing! The play is co-credited to the American singer-songwriter Mark Eitzel, which is pushing it a bit: Eitzel writes one song. But it’s an effective one, a haunting, nocturnal ballad that Willem performs snatches of throughout. It gently blurs the sense of realism and adds a note of the catharsis that one suspects Willem himself will never achieve.


£20-£55. Runs 1hr 10min
You may also like
You may also like
London for less