“She had no idea how much sadness she was going to experience in her life. She had no understanding of the idea of regret. She’d never drunk herself to sleep. She’d never deliberately hurt a person she loved just to see if she could. She had no idea how much uncertainty she would feel one day.”

Just like the clinical, empty apartment that surrounds him, Willem’s life is lacking emotion and purpose. At the news of his brother’s sudden death, he begins his journey from New York to his hometown of Amsterdam for the funeral, full of questions as to the brevity and meaning of life.  He could not feel more disconnected from the “chorus of rattling trams and bewildering underwear billboard posters and cafes” that envelop him there and his estranged parents who see him as nothing but a disappointment.

The Young Vic’s new production showcases the collaboration between Playwright Simon Stephens and Director Ivo Van Hove.  The success of Stephens’ Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-Time paired with Hove’s recent and highly acclaimed direction of A View From A Bridge at The Young Vic, have meant that Song From Far Away has been greatly anticipated by theatre lovers. 

The meditative piece is an 80-minute monologue of letters that Willem  (Eelco Smits) is writing to his recently deceased brother, Pauli. No closure can be found after his brother’s life was cut short, and the letters document Willem’s grieving process.  Composer Mark Eitzel’s original song ‘Go Where the Love Is’ perfectly complements the reflective and raw feeling of the piece.

The length and complications of life in contrast with the abruptness of death introduces a whole array of opposites in the play.  The set is startlingly bright and yet shadows are cast across the stage, sometimes leaving Smits in complete darkness. There is so much silence that even the sound of the air-con machine feels deafening and uncomfortable.

Willem is unemotional and cold, but then suffers from emotional attacks in which he screams, cries and breaks down. He proclaims ‘‘I don’t know how to hug anybody anymore” but is overwhelmed with love and regret when he sees ex boyfriend Isaac. He is a stranger to his family but completely opens up to Pauli in the letters. He is numb and yet infuriated. He is closed and guarded but also vulnerable whilst both physically and emotionally naked.

Throughout all of this, the play’s subtlety and abstractness is totally gripping.

Song From Far Away is playing The Young Vic until 19 September. For more information and tickets, see the Young Vic website. Photo by the Young Vic.