Willem lives and works in New York; his family in Amsterdam. Both are twin cities built on capitalism and money but also famed for their creative output. And it is these twin threads which are exemplified by the Wall Street hedge fund manager and his brother Pauli who has artistic leanings. When his sibling dies, suddenly Willem is dragged reluctantly back to his homeland to attend the funeral and try and re-engage with his family for whom he has little love and even less respect.
Simon Stephens and Mark Eitzel have created what may well be a new genre - a musical monologue - though there is certainly more of the latter than the former and which takes the form of a series of troubled letters reflecting on events. Willem addresses his thoughts and feelings to his departed sibling and the gradually developing plangent song which emerges would also seem to be dedicated to his memory too. As such the excellently scripted piece reflects on family dynamics and dealing with loss. All of this is a million miles from the cooly calculated decisions Willem makes as part of his career.
Heis not a particularly sympathetic character. Indeed his arch spikiness as he relates his dealings with other humans make him somewhat unlikeable. As is so often the case, however, it is all a bit of a mask and it becomes apparent that the one person Willem really doesn’t like is himself. There are hints that, as he flies back to New York, he may become a better person.
Will Young may be best known for singing but his vocal qualities, sense of rhythm and phrasing help him to deliver an elegiac one man performance which is well balanced and resonates long after the play has concluded. He exudes star quality though not of a flashy kind, maintains his somewhat fey American accent with commendable consistency and knows how to use pauses to excellent effect.
The staging too is impressive with Ingrid Hu’s set suggesting a string of anonymous airport lounges, hotels and, perhaps, Willem’s expensive though chilly home life. Expansive curtaining swishes around to indicate various locations and the ceiling rises and falls to suggest a degree of the protagonist’s claustrophobia. Then at a couple of points, the stage fully opens out to stunning effect – a scene of snow falling (or is it the ashes from a cremation?) is particularly haunting. At these points Andrew Exeter’s resonant lighting is magnificent. Julian Starr does his usual fine job on a thoroughly evocative soundscape.
It's a pretty intense 70 minutes, though director Kirk Jameson ensures it is never rushed. Young proves he can act as well as sing but if you do go along for the latter then you won’t be disappointed by the haunting refrain of the final moments.
Review: BottomLine Photo: Mark Senior