Song From Far Away

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Forced to return to the place he had long since abandoned due to the sudden and untimely death of his brother, bereaved, nomadic banker Willem (Will Young) controls all that he can in this bitter-sweet monologue by playwright Simon Stephens and singer-songwriter Mark Eitzel

Where Willem is sarcastic, superficial and shallow his brother Pauli was artistic, musical and rooted firmly in the very heart of his family in Amsterdam. Willem moved to New York 12 years prior for a life of seeming anonymity and preferred disconnect. Reconnecting with his old life is neither embraced nor welcomed. Invitations are ignored while communication with anyone other than his late brother in the letters that he writes feels forced and misunderstood. He is a complex character, displaced both physically and emotionally yet draws you into his introspective world effortlessly.

We learn so much about him through this 80 minute piece, his complicated relationship with his parents, his regret over a lost love, yet it’s his surprising affection for his niece Anka, which truly gives us hope that relationships won’t always be impossible for Willem, indicating that this is a piece much more about living than dying.

The simple staging of the faceless hotel suite is given depth by the movement of tall billowing curtains while the lowering and raising of the ceiling adds at times to the feelings of claustrophobia and intensity. The smattering of snowfall beyond the confides of the suite midway through hints almost at a euphoric feeling of hope, just out of reach.

Will Young is entirely captivating in the role, commanding the attention of the audience effortlessly. The source material doesn’t leave room for sentimentality despite dealing with the loss of a sibling, making the moments of song and melody all the more poignant, cathartic in their delicate simplicity and delivered note perfect by Young. His performance feels intimate, authentic and real.

Director Kirk Jameson’s choice to set the piece several years after the passing of Pauli offers an opportunity of self-reflection, rediscovery and most importantly hope. This intimate and beautifully delivered piece will stay with you long after the curtain call.

Song From Far Away is on at HOME until Saturday 11th March tickets available here.

Punk Rock

Salford Uni

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict 2.5 Stars

Based in Salford, the Almost Theatre Company have given a platform to some super talented young actors, writers, directors and back stage crews. They have a diverse back catalogue of shows that include Rent, Sweeny Todd and Dr Faustus. Clearly, this is a company willing to take risks, and this trend is continued with their latest offering Punk Rock.

Set in the Library of a six-form college in Stockport, we are introduced to six students: some are friends, some are foes, but all have their problems. There is new girl Lilly (Verity Lynn-Williams), struggling to find her feet at a new school, her shy boyfriend (Neil Boardman) and his friend Bennett (Josh Bratherton), a bully and borderline psychopath. Then there is Cissy (Georgia Davis), Bennett’s girlfriend who is feeling the pressure from her parents to get good grades and her best friend Tanya (Charlotte McClintock), who has a crush on one of her teachers. The final pair is Chadwick (Joel Conlon), a loner but academically gifted and William (Chris Woods), the joker filled with hopes and dreams, but desperate for acceptance.

We see the class mates converse with each other, their interactions mainly having a negative impact on each of them, their circumstances and their mental health. Inevitably the constant struggle and torment that each member of the group are going through leads one of them to snap, which has devastating consequences for all concerned.

Punk Rock offers somewhat of a mixed bag; it’s a bold, unflinching play that attempts to address some of the mental health issues affecting young people today, and for that it should be commended. The cast are strong, with each one putting in decent turns as the troubled troupe. Occasionally some cast members do go slightly over-the-top in their performances and more must be made of the subtleties and nuisances of their characters for the play to have more impact. All seven-cast members (Patrick Cerra plays two supporting roles) are clearly talented and have a bright future ahead of them.

Where the production suffers is in its tone. It doesn’t get that balance between comedy and drama right. If it wants to be taken as a serious piece of theatre, then it needs to lose the jokey introduction, and decide what you want the audience to take away from the show. The script needs to be tighter as some of the dialogue is on the clunky side.

Overall, this production has good intentions and certainly deserves an audience. It is a shining example of just how much the Almost Famous Theatre Company has at their disposal.

Punk Rock is at Salford Universality Media City Campus until Saturday 9th February