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Song from Far Away

Eelco Smits in Song From Far Away. Photo: Jan Versweyveld Eelco Smits in Song From Far Away. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Ivo van Hove returns to the Young Vic, following his triumphant production of A View from the Bridge, with what feels in very many ways like a low-key companion piece to his recent staging of Antigone.

Combining text from Simon Stephens and music from Mark Eitzel, Song from Far Away is a meditative play about Willem, a 34-year-old man who is travelling from New York to his family home in Amsterdam for his brother’s funeral.

The play takes the shape of a series of letters delivered from Willem to his late brother, Pauli. It’s initially tempting to label this as another Simon Stephens play about an emotionally closed-off individual inhabiting a liminal space, but thanks in large part to the relaxed, almost conversational performance of Toneelgroep Amsterdam regular Eelco Smits, it comes to feel warmer and more human.

Jan Versweyveld’s stark boxy set, precisely lit and empty except for a solitary lamp, resembles both an anonymous European hotel room and, in some small way, the chambers of the human heart, an atrium and ventricle. Smits, who spends a large part of the production completely naked, exposed yet also oddly cocooned, goes through the intricacies of grief, its many calibrations, its sudden surprise attacks.

Eitzel’s gentle music is as central to this effect, to this strange cradling, as Stephens’ words. Like Antigone, this is a thing of ritual, but while it does feel a little clinical in places, a little stately, at its best and most engaging it’s as intimate as breath on the inside of your wrist.

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Ivo van Hove and Simon Stephens collaborate on a meditative piece about grief