This brand new stage adaptation based on Annie Proulx’s short story is certainly tender – but somehow lacking the emotional intensity expecting.
Perfectly pitched in many ways, this play with music has much to recommend it thanks to Jonathan Butterell’s sensitive and thoughtful production and Dan Gillespie Sells’ haunting and country inspired songs that are performed with plenty of warmth by the on stage band. Yet somehow it feels the emotional intensity of the story is slightly lacking.
Set in Wyoming in 1963, Brokeback Mountain is a story of a forbidden love that has striking relevancy given everything that is happening in America today. It begins with Ennis and Jack taking jobs on the isolated Brokeback Mountain, leading to circumstances that they could have never foreseen for the next twenty years. While it is a story of love, it is also a story that highlights other struggles – including identity (particularly in Ennis’s case) that makes for a subtle and heartbreaking story.
Yet, while Ashley Robinson’s script beautifully is beautifully tender, there is a sense that by of course having to cover 20 years in such a short space of time, it doesn’t leave a lot of room to build up the intensity and chemistry of Ennis and Jack’s relationship as much as you would hope for, making the ending tragic – but not so much that will leave the audience in tears. It is a shame, because the cast deliver such beautiful and understated performances that have the audience thoroughly invested in what is unfolding.
Lucas Hedges as Ennis in particular captures the character’s inner torment and conflict wonderfully well as he tries to keep his feelings hidden. He is well paired with Mike Faist’s Jack – a self-assured and outgoing personality seeking adventure, but somehow underneath you get a sense of his insecurity. The chemistry is subtle and does take a bit of time to develop but soon burns with intensity as their relationship develops but it is never done in a sleazy way. This goes back to the point that more focus should have been about how their differences brought them together, whereas it feels simply as though we are given snapshots of their relationship and those around him. Emily Fairn delivers a bittersweet performance as Alma, showcasing the character’s pain at the knowledge of her husband’s feelings for Jack in a heartbreaking way. Everything is performed with great sensitivity.
This particularly goes for the way in which Eddi Reader and the onstage band breathe life into Dan Gillespie Sells thoughtful and poetic songs that enhances the changing mood of the story and effortlessly interwoven into the wider context of the plot.
Meanwhile, it has to be said it would be absolutely impossible to bring a mountain into a theatre, but Tom Pye’s gorgeously rustic and countryside inspired set does an excellent job of highlighting the isolation of the two central characters on the mountain, while also later on just how isolated their relationship makes them from the rest of Wyoming’s (and by extension America as a whole) small minded views and opinions. David Finn’s lighting design captures the tone and changing nature of the story to great effect, particularly during the more sensitive moments.
Overall, Brokeback Mountain makes for a beautiful story on stage, but it needs a little more focus on the central relationship to highlight the tragedy with more of a powerful emotional impact. However, it is still a subtle, thought provoking show that has much to be admired about it.
By Emma Clarendon
To book tickets visit: https://sohoplace.org/whats-on/brokeback-mountain