Brokeback Mountain ★★★★★ @sohoplace | May 10 - Aug 12, 2023

In 2005 Brokeback Mountain became an award winning film. Adapted from a 1997 short story by Annie Proulx, the tale of forbidden love has now come to the West End. The plot traces the twenty year relationship of two young cowboys who meet while they are protecting sheep grazing in summer pastures. They cannot acknowledge their relationship and strive to conform to social norms, but they are unable to forget their youthful encounter. It is this inability to commit to their love that will blight both of their subsequent marriages and their later lives. The story is relatively simple and depends heavily on making the characters and the development of their relationship credible. Jonathan Butterell has done a brilliant job of letting the characters' love grow almost wordlessly before the eyes of the audience. The pacing of the early scenes is exceptional as is the atmosphere and mood that are delicately established. As the garrulous Jack who aspires to be a rodeo bull rider, Mike Faist puts in an extraordinary performance hinting at his repressed desires while covering them with blithe banter. He is completely believable as the rash daredevil impulsively imagining a future life for himself and his lover, while later entering an unsatisfactory marriage. As the taciturn Ennis who hesitates to accept what is happening, Lucas Hedges does a fine job of matching Faist's performance, but when he later tries to articulate his feelings in the discussions with his wife, Alma, it is less convincing. His wrenching agony at the dissolution of that relationship doesn't quite ring true, although Emily Fairn does an excellent turn as the suspicious wife who doesn't want to believe what she knows. This is not a musical, but a play complemented by thirteen songs written by Dan Gillespie Sells, and performed by Eddi Reader. The music nicely sets a context for the narrative, reinforcing the atmosphere without retelling the story. The melancholy tone of Reader's voice beautifully underlines the action, and Brokeback Mountain is a deeply touching presentation of first love viewed through the lens of bittersweet nostalgia. It's another first-rate production from the West End's newest theatre!

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Manuel Harlan.

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