Review - Brokeback Mountain - @sohoplace, London


Brokeback Mountain - @sohoplace, London

Brokeback Mountain is a story of love and intimacy but tinged with issues of prejudice.  The choice of @sohoplace for this staged version of the story is perfect.  It invites the audience into the intimacy but also makes us surround the action as scrutineers to the disadvantage of the protagonists who try to live their lives beyond the gaze of those who would judge their relationship in negative terms.

The two actors charged with retelling this story, written as a short story in 1997, and produced as a film in 2005, perfectly gauge the balance of tenderness and toxic masculinity that forms their duelling identities – both making their West End debuts.  Mike Faist plays the cocky Jack Twist who knows what he wants and is eager to get it.  Lucas Hedges plays the monosyllabic Ennis Del Mar who is much more reserved, unsure of himself, and too eager to conform to society’s expectations.

However, in contrast to the film, we are told the story through the eyes of an older Ennis.  The character utters no more than a few sentences in the entire production, but playing the role is Paul Hickey and his physical presence and facial expressions say everything about the pain Ennis has experienced in not being able to pursue the love he has found.  His words are voiced by another ‘character’, that of the band, ably musically directed by Sean Green with haunting vocals brought by Eddi Reader of Fairground Attraction fame.   The band provides so much of the texture, and scene setting of the period and region of Wyoming.  The lamenting sounds, from an original score written by Dan Gillespe Sells (front man of The Feeling, composer of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie), tell us everything we need to know about the characters’ inner monologues.  Some of the band join the cast at points, which adds to the sense that they are not there as an incidental prop to fill the time.

Speaking of time, the show lasts only 90 minutes with no interval, and in that 90 minutes we cover a lot of history, like it’s a night’s dream for older Ennis.  It could be argued that the play might benefit from being fractionally longer as at times we are hurried through a number of years.  I would like to have journeyed a little more with the characters through their fraught relationship – but maybe it’s better to be left wanting more.   

A special mention goes to Emily Fairn, playing the long-suffering Alma, wife of Ennis.  Emily is early in her career, graduating in 2020.  Her portrayal of a woman caught in a loveless marriage, simply because Ennis is expected to marry, demonstrates a well-developed capability. 

The end of the story is tragic.  No one really gets to live the life they want or expect.  And that’s all down to the prejudiced and homophobic attitudes of the era.  Sadly, the attitudes still prevail and, indeed are on the rise in some places.  So this is a good time to retell this story, reminding us that love is love.

This show was reviewed on the 22nd May 2023.  Brokeback Mountain runs at @sohoplace, London until the 12th August 2023.  Tickets available here: Brokeback Mountain (sohoplace.org)

**** stars

Paul Wood & Ian Worsey

Join Paul every Wednesday and Friday at 3pm for 'The Afternoon Show' here on Box Office Radio

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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