Will Young is often written about as a Pop Idol due to the way he came to many people’s attention winning the hit TV competition to secure a recording contract.
But in the twenty one years since millions of people voted for him, he has released 8 albums, starred in the film Mrs Henderson Presents alongside Judi Dench, and released 2 greatest hits albums.
He has also toured extensively and made his stage debut in Manchester at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Noel Coward’s play The Vortex and played the Emcee on tour and in the West End in Rufus Norris’s production of Kander and Ebb’s hit musical Cabaret.
Last year he made a painfully honest documentary about the loss of his twin brother Robert.
He supports and campaigns for many charities including WWF and, Catch 22. When it comes to music, Will loves to get physical as opposed to streaming, as he is a big believer in giving respect to the performer, as he says there is not much money to be made in music anymore.
He splits his time between London and Cornwall but also regards Manchester as a home from home, as he lived here when he performed in The Vortex, Cabaret and the supernatural TV drama series Bedlam for Sky.
It’s apt then that his return to the stage is at Manchester’s HOME theatre space in Song From Far Away by Stockport writer Simon Stephens and Mark Eitzel and directed by Kirk Jameson who lives in Manchester.
The piece is a one person play and it explores loss and loneliness and a protagonist who cannot hear music.
I caught up with Will to talk about his return to the stage, his music career highlights, what Manchester means to him and the Northern sense of humour that he loves.
What would you turn to if you could not hear music?
Crochet (laughs). I like doing crafty type things and I would like to be a restorer of antiques. I would love to do gilding.
A Guardian theatre reviewer described Song From Far Away as “one of the saddest plays they had ever seen.” What attracted you to the piece?
It probably is the sadness, I think. Anything with extremes is fun to play, it’s not Medea (which I saw the late Helen McCory play and she was amazing) and a monologue (taking head) comes with more intensity. It’s a real spotlight, forensic on a character. What’s great about this is that the writing stands up to that forensic spotlight. For a piece like this, it has to be really good writing. It’s pretty bleak. There is humour, the character meets a guy in a guy in a bar and he talks about the various medications that he is on or not on anymore and that’s very funny. He does have humour but he is also very cold, I think.
Does this provide you with a challenge as an actor?
It’s about the momentum. You know where you are going and that enables you to keep on treading the fine line. There is a balance there but it’s about constantly maintaining the momentum and through that you can manipulate the audience. It is manipulation but hopefully to give them the best performance of the piece.
Being on tour as a solo artist even with a band is very exposing, as it’s all eyes on you. Do you draw upon things you do on tour as a solo artist – for a piece like this?
You can’t recreate the intimacy of theatre. But on my last tour, I did a monologue which is a 10 minute long joke and I really enjoyed doing it. I suppose that kind of comedy and that kind of storytelling means I am not terrified. From that experience, I am used to having to carrying something. If it’s a company piece you don’t have that and that’s what’s nice about being in a company. Even if you’ve got a big part, you do get breaks. There’s something lovely about that. And you’re playing with others.
It doesn’t daunt me, so I suppose being a solo singer helps that.
You began your stage career in Manchester, starring in The Vortex and you have performed here many times in different venues. What does Manchester mean to you?
It feels like another home as I have lived there through acting jobs. 5 months doing The Vortex, another five months doing a Sky drama called Bedlam, which was a trashy Hollyoaks meets Ghosts. I’m very comfortable there. I know it very well. And I always love going there and I love the people. I sort of feel like I more suited to it there than I am in pretentious London. It’s largely because people are very down to earth in Manchester.
And also they are bloody funny. Humour is such a big thing for me. Yesterday I was watching Greg Davies on TV and he is so funny. He was making himself laugh, his show is so funny and I just love watching comedians, really good comedians. I get so much from humour. Life is so bonkers and basically if you don’t laugh at life you really give up and cry until you had no more tears left. And Mancunians have a brilliant sense of humour.
The release of your single Jealousy felt like a real defining moment. Do you have any career highs that make you feel proud and you think, wow – I did that?
I think Echoes, that whole album is one. It all came kind of easily but in the right way. I just met two new writers Kish Mauve and Jim Eliot. After the very first session, I remember ringing up my then record company and saying “I have found the people I always wanted to work with.” I have pretty much worked with them ever since. And Richard X the producer, it just all came together very easily and I sort of felt like I found my voice. That was a defining moment for me.
It was very authentic. I wasn’t trying to mid-tempo dance, I just met these people and that’s what they were doing. And I thought this is amazing and I just really liked the sound of my voice. To date it was the most industrious time of my career. It was a really good time for pop music. I had a TV special and it was just really cool. And then I went on to do Cabaret so those 2 – 3 years were one of the most creatively fulfilling that I have ever done.
Any recent highlights?
One of my best songs though is a cover of a Bats for Lashes song called Daniel from my album Crying on the Bathroom Floor. I am really proud of that song and I think it is one of my best. Not that I wrote it but I think it’s one of my best performances. And it always goes down so well at the gigs. It feels like it has been around a lot longer than it has.
What are you looking forward to the most about this play?
I think it is being on the stage. I haven’t done a straight play for so long. I did The Vortex and I was really young then. To be honest I was bloody lazy and it was as good as it could have been. But now I have such a wealth of knowledge, I have worked properly on voice, worked with brilliant voice coaches. There is something electric about the intimacy of theatre, it’s really fun and it’s really powerful. I think I love the attention of it being on the character. And it’s different to music. Music can move into adoration and that’s different. Whereas this isn’t about any sense of adoration. It’s about listening, really listening. And I think that’s very cool.
Will Young stars in Song From Far Away which is at HOME from 22nd February – 11th March and tickets can be booked here.
For a look behind the scenes at the play, please click here.