Stuart King

Review: BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN at Soho Place

Originally published as a short story in The New Yorker magazine back in 1997, Annie Proulx’s sensitive tale of two young cowboys Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar struggling with poverty in rural Wyoming, was turned into an Oscar-winning movie in 2005 and perhaps more surprisingly, an opera in 2014. Here, the story receives a further treatment — this time as a play by Ashley Robinson, supported with songs by Dan Gillespie Sells.

Brokeback Mountain. Mike Faist (Jack) and Lucas Hedges (Ennis). Credit - Manuel HarlanBrokeback Mountain. Mike Faist (Jack) and Lucas Hedges (Ennis). Credit - Manuel Harlan

Directed by Jonathan Butterell with young American actors Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges making their West End debuts in the lead roles, the production set in 1963, is enhanced with on-stage country and western vocals delivered by balladeer Eddi Reader and her band. This device allows much of Proulx’s original prose to take on a poetic lyricism all its own and conveniently provides subtle distraction as set states are altered.

Delivered in the round with audience on four sides (and overlooking from three levels), the flat rectangular playing area neatly conveys a barren and exposed Wyoming landscape, where the minimal furniture (required for domestic scenes) is raised through the floor of Tom Pye’s rustic and evocative set. Even the ramshackle tent which Jack erects during an early scene, has been carefully choreographed into proceedings and is lit internally to convey the first intense sexual interaction between the two men who’s hitherto brooding connection overwhelms them as their months-long lonely vigil over a flock of grazing sheep effectively renders them lovers and companions.

Ennis angrily rejects any idea of a homosexual relationship and a full 4 years pass before they next encounter each other (during which time they’ve both married and had children in affectionate but perfunctory relationships). When they do eventually reconnect, the chemistry is undeniable and leads to them finding excuses to snatch time to be together over the next 20 years, causing strain and heartache to those who are cast to the periphery of their world. Most notably, Ennis’ wife Alma (Emily Fairn) feels her husband’s distance and lack of desire towards her, eventually demanding a divorce. Many of these scenes are watched over by a largely silent figure (Paul Hickey) who as Ennis’ older self relives key moments in his life and ponders the decisions which were taken.

The story is sensitively handled and the overall result, beautiful and heartbreaking — a testament to the quality of the original source material and all those who’ve contributed their talents in bringing it to life.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN runs for a limited season until 12th August.