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Song from Far Away at the Young Vic

Alice Dickerson

A powerful portrayal of a troubled young man, attempting but unable to escape his past. The main stage at the Young Vic is big space. And it feels particularly big when there is a cast of only one.

Yet Eelco Smits as Willem commands that stage, and his audience's attention, for over an hour and a quarter.

Song from Far Away is composed of a series of letters written and narrated by Willem to his dead brother. The reflections and observations that they contain are less poignant, more sharp and caustic; they reveal Willem to be a loner with no close relationships, including with his brother. He lives in New York because of the anonymity that it affords him. He always wears headphones, but never listens to music; he simply wants to block others out.

His brother's death has forced him to return to his native Amsterdam, where he cannot avoid confronting the reasons that led to him fleeing to New York: his father, his ex-boyfriend, Amsterdam itself. And he resolves none of them.

Simon Stephen's writing and Smits's acting saves this from being a rather standard portrayal of an unhappy young man alone in his hotel room, by imbuing his character with honesty and humour. The fact that Smits is naked for much of the play is not a gimmick but an extension of this honesty. Ivo van Hove's (A View from the Bridge) staging is simple, and the end of Song from Far Away is all the more beautiful for it. Willem is left standing on his window ledge, letting his letters to his brother drift away into the city beneath him. It's a powerful image to be left with.

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