Out of the wood: London Theatre

Posted On September 8, 2015
September 08, 2015

Eelco Smits talks to Serena Basra about the new production Song From Far Away at The Young Vic 

Eelco Smits in Song From Far Away. Photo by Jan Versweyveld (2)

The Young Vic is starting September with a bang with their new production of Song From Far Away. Written by acclaimed playwright Simon Stephens (Birdland, Motortown), directed by the award-winning Ivo van Hove (A View from the Bridge) with featured music from Mark Eitzel it is a celebration of theatre’s best and brightest. It is also Stephens’ first original play to be produced by the Young Vic.Song From Far Away is perhaps best described as part elegy, part catharsis. It is a poignant journey through grief and hope. A young man (played by Eelco Smits) returns to Amsterdam after his brother’s death and attempts to reconnect with him through a series of letters.  The play premiered at Mostra Internacionale de Teatro de São Paulo in Brazil in March and runs at the Young Vic from the 2nd to the 19th of August.

We talk to Eelco about being involved in the unusual production.

Chorleywood Magazine: How has this production differed from others that you have done before? Does Stephens’s work present any new challenges that you haven’t experienced with other playwrights?

Eelco Smits: This is the first monologue I’ve done. That’s quite challenging. The fact that I don’t have to “share” the text with anyone else, somehow makes it more personal. And I’m used to mainly acting in plays by dead playwrights: you can’t ask Shakespeare questions anymore! So the fact Simon Stephens was present in rehearsals was quite new to me. It was great.

 CM: Do you find grief harder to portray than comedy?

ES: I don’t think it’s harder. I think grief and comedy are equally hard to portray, if you want to do it right. I think it’s “designed” that way.

CM: Is it challenging handling a whole stage without the support of other actors?

ES: Very challenging. Every night before I enter the stage the same thought goes through my head: “If I don’t enter, nothing happens”. So the responsibility is huge, but also hugely rewarding.

CM: If you had to summarise the play in just 3 words, what would they be?

ES: Study of loss

CM: What appeals to you most about the Young Vic? And the London theatre scene in general?

ES: I love the fact that every single person working in the Young Vic seems to be very much involved with what is going on in the theatre. And their restaurant [The Cut Bar] is great. I don’t know the London theatre scene that well – but the fact that so much is there, is brilliant. From the National Theatre to those musicals that inhabit the same beautiful little theatres in the West End for years, to cutting edge stuff at the Barbican and the Young Vic.

Main pic Young Vic © Philip Vile, RIBA,  Eelco Smits images  Jan Versweyveld


Eelco Smits in Song From Far Away. Photo by Jan Versweyveld (4) (1)As an avid Simon Stephens’s fan naturally I couldn’t wait until press night to see his new production (how could I be expected to wait an extra two days!). Therefore, on the opening night* I eagerly took my seat to see how Song From Far Away fared against his past works.

The play itself is perhaps best described as a marriage of sorrow and solace. A young man (played by Eelco Smits) returns to Amsterdam and attempts to reconnect with his deceased brother through a series of letters. These letters are a substitute for travelling; whether it be to the past, to home, or closer to those we have lost. It is a crafty technique as through Smits initially reserved style we descend deeper into the melancholic world of the play. The transformation is gradual, but we are soon united in solitude with Smits.

As expected, glimpses of Stephen’s deprecating social commentary were present throughout as he consistently reminded us to reassess the world around us. The dialogue was sharp and at times very witty. However the true, and only, star of the show was Eelco Smits. His mock dialogues were so convincing at moments you forgot the stage was only commanded by him. Admittedly the opening was slightly disorientating and there was a stumble or two, but as an opening night performance this was understandable. The song (composed by Mark Eitzel) performed by Smits was truly impressive. It showed off Smits hauntingly beautiful singing voice yet also the intimate nature of loss. The performance as a whole was intoxicating and, in the simplest terms, over far too soon.

Song From Far Away runs at the Young Vic until the 19 September.  020-7922 2923 www.youngvic.org

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Serena Basra



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