Reviews are coming in for the brand new stage adaptation of Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain in London, starring Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges.
The play with music is running at @SohoPlace theatre in London until 12 August 2023.
Adapted from Proulx’s novel by Ashley Robinson, Brokeback Mountain is directed by Jonathan Butterell, who reunites with The Feeling’s Dan Gillespie Sells following their successful collaboration on Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
Dan Gillespie Sells has written the music for the play, which is performed live on stage by Fairground Attraction’s Eddi Reader as the The Balladeer, with her Country and Western band including acclaimed musicians Sean Green (piano/MD), Meelie Traill (upright bass), Julian Jackson (chromatic harmonica), and BJ Cole (pedal steel guitar).
The cast includes Oscar nominated Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea) as Ennis, with Tony nominated Mike Faist (West Side Story) as Jack, Emily Fairn (The Responder) as Alma, Paul Hickey as Older Ennis, and Martin Marquez as Joe/Bill/Jack’s Father.
The play is set in Wyoming, US, in 1963, and is an achingly romantic love story between two cowboys, Ennis and Jack, who take a job on the isolated Brokeback Mountain. Over the course of 20 years, all their certainties of life change forever as they flounder in unexpected emotional waters of increasing depth, punctuated in the production by Dan Gillespie Sells’ haunting music.
The creative team of Brokeback Mountain also includes Tom Pye (Set & Costume Design), David Finn (Lighting Design), Christopher Shutt (Sound Design), Shaheen Baig (Casting Director), Tommy Ross-Williams (Intimacy Director), Kevin McCurdy (Fight Director), Phil Wilding (Production Manager), Zeb Lalljee (Costume Supervisor), Sam Cox (Wigs Maker/Supervisor), Lily Mollgaard (Props Supervisor), and Mary Irwin and Ben Furey (Vocal/Dialect Coach).
Read reviews, below, from the London theatre critics, with more reviews to follow.
Book Brokeback Mountain tickets at @sohoplace theatre in London
Brokeback Mountain reviews
"This stripped-back show is a potent, subtle piece of dramatic alchemy"
"This is a gem of a show with star turns by the two arthouse-cool American leads"
"The moment magnetic American rising stars Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges come on stage, apprehension about this adaptation of the famous cowboy love story is dispelled. What we have here is a tough, tender account of two men caught unawares by taboo desire in hardscrabble Wyoming in 1963, and it’s beautifully performed."
"Ashley Robinson – an actor making an impressive playwrighting debut – and director Jonathan Butterell honour Annie Proulx’s original short story."
"Whatever you’ve heard, it’s not a musical. Dan Gillespie Sells has composed an evocative, country-inflected score..."
"There’s impressive physicality as well as emotional nuance to the performances... The two have powerful sexual chemistry but also great ease together."
"This is a gem of a show, marrying two arthouse-cool American actors with an oddball selection of offstage talent to produce something quietly moving. It’s a further indication of what the remarkable, peculiar @sohoplace theatre can do."
"Proulx’s gay love story staged with more efficiency than intensity"
"This adaptation of the book that became an Oscar-winning film has a semi-musical approach that charms, but it doesn't overwhelm the emotions"
"A herd of achingly lovely country ballads are shepherded into our affections by a soulful-voiced, guitar-strumming Eddi Reader and small band, set beside the stage."
"This semi-musical approach ensures that the dialogue doesn’t become overburdened. Even so, American screen stars Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges are stepping into hard-to-fill cowboy boots."
"Faist lights up the stage wonderfully but handsome Hedges sometimes lacks the charisma Ledger mustered at his most tight-lipped, partly because the scenes with his neglected wife (Emily Fairn’s Alma) are so truncated."
"Perfectly pitched staging of the heartbreaking love story"
"The desolately poignant tale is brought into stark relief in Jonathan Butterell’s production through Eddi Reader’s beautiful vocals and a compelling cast"
"... Ashley Robinson’s stage adaptation, all of 90 minutes long, returns it to a distilled purity."
"Nica Burns’s new theatre is proving itself as a space in which acoustics are central to the action and Dan Gillespie Sells’ country and western songs, led by Eddi Reader’s beautiful vocals, build the atmosphere and charge."
"It retains an innocence and tenderness all the way through, even in spite of the unspoken dissatisfaction they come to feel, and both actors are compelling, Faist especially so as the ebullient Jack, while Hedges is more melancholic as Ennis, too scared to risk a fuller life with Jack, and full of regret for it."
"The play’s ending is stark, leaving our sobs stuck, dry, in our throats. The men’s unlived lives, their unspent passions, are desolately evoked."
"Though impressively atmospheric, this stage version of Annie Proulx’s queer love story is totally overshadowed by the classic Ang Lee film"
"Although there’s a good stab at the great outdoors in Tom Pye’s set - fake snow, a real campfire – the USP here is the presence of ‘80s pop star and Americana enthusiast Eddi Reader with her live band."
"... young US actors Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges make decent fists of the roles. Faist, who beguiled in Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’, is particularly magnetic as Jack, playing him as a free spirit who drifts through life fecklessly, but blissfully unbound by the prejudices and repressions of those around him."
"What it sorely lacks is a sense of a world beyond the men’s encounters. They seem to exist in a timeless, Americana-tinged no place, with little sense of either man ageing or of time passing between their encounters."
"If there had been a lot more music it might have felt more daring and opened up new ways into the characters. But ultimately it isn’t enough to help the play step out of the film’s all-encompassing shadow."
"Theatre re-heats of hit movies can be ersatz and predictable, a surrender of originality by playwrights and producers. This one is worth seeing, though, not least for some bewilderingly good harmonica playing."
"Faist has instant magnetism and angular looks that call to mind the young Bob Dylan. Hedges is less obviously a star proposition, but I liked that. Not all farmhands have Hollywood jawlines."
"They may not have great romantic chemistry, but, at the risk of blasphemy, I didn’t think Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal had much in the film. The characters have, though, more breath and bones on stage. Without all those lens effects, it feels more real. This show has that elusive, indefinable thing, dramatic truth."
"This unsubtle adaptation leaves its stars stranded"
"Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges are underserved by a clunky production as Annie Proulx’s story reaches the stage"
"The good news: West Side Story star Mike Faist is fantastic in @sohoplace’s stage adaptation of Brokeback Mountain. The bad news: the production is as galumphingly unsubtle as a “Cotton Eyed Joe” remix on a dance machine."
"Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges and rising star Mike Faist are a major draw in the lead roles, making their London stage debuts at a venue that is not yet a year old... But both young actors are let down by a production that doesn’t seem to let their talent speak for itself."
"The music feels both heavy-handed and indistinct; I assume it’s there to help convey the emotion, but it hampers the actors from doing that with their performances."
"Everyone knows that Brokeback Mountain is elegiac, erotic, and unfolds upon a hilly, chilly wilderness. Butterell, though, loudly telegraphs all of this with clunky devices that detract from the material and performances rather than amplifying them."
"Hedges feels a little miscast at times – he plays the introvert to Faist’s chatterbox extrovert well, but lacks a certain kind of gruff gravitas, not quite conveying Ennis’s inner torment."
"How to turn a steamy cowboy encounter into a yawnfest on the mountain top:"
"Verdict: A 90-minute snooze"
"Brace yourself for a lonely night on Brokeback Mountain. You'll remember the hit film. Here we've a brisk adaptation of the original short story. I'm not sure why."
"It's a touching story, a tremendous and important film, but an oddly dead play; ten riveting minutes lost in a 90-minute snooze. First, you never quite buy the relationship between the two... Where's the sexual tension? Where's the emotional foreplay? The glances? The stray touches? Nothing."
"This chemistry void then kills the plot, which is about them being forced apart by society. Ashley Robinson has done a decent adaptation of the text — cowboys are hardly Hamlets — but little of the unsaid gets communicated."
"Quite a bit of emotional work is sublet to the band. This is a play with songs, not a musical as some had hoped."
"Beautiful, compelling and infinitely sad"
"Sidestepping Ang Lee's movie, writer Ashley Robinson has gone back to Annie Proulx's short story for the source of his play."
"Both Hedges and Faist are simply wonderful as the cowboys who balance Marlboro Man machismo against the love that dares not speak its name."
"Beautifully paced, Jonathan Butterell's direction is spare and uncluttered, allowing small details - the crunch of dry ground underfoot, the sprinkling of snow, the clank of a cooking pot - to maintain an atmosphere of idyllic isolation"
"Lucas Hedges and Mike Faist are splendid as secret lovers"
"The in-the-round intimacy of @sohoplace is perfect for the understated emotion of Annie Proulx’s love story"
"If you’re after a classy story told with added extras, a “play with music” is the way to go. This formula worked a treat for the exquisite Bob Dylan/Conor McPherson tie-up Girl from the North Country and lightning strikes twice here."
"There is an intoxicating quality of eloquent stillness to Jonathan Butterell’s production of Ashley Robinson’s play (his debut, incidentally, which is quite some way to start). In the interstices of the often wordless action comes Dan Gillespie Sells’s music, which sits at the soulful end of country and in its yearning beauty conveys the emotions that the characters so often cannot."
"Faist and Hedges – plaudits too for British actor Emily Fairn, making her stage debut as Ennis’s frustrated wife Alma – are a splendid pairing..."
"Love story of the American West favours poignant delicacy over epic emotional force"
"Here, those visuals are replaced by a score of country and bluegrass songs by Dan Gillespie Sells, performed by Eddi Reader (formerly of band Fairground Attraction) as a balladeer, fronting an onstage band in which BJ Cole’s pedal steel guitar is resonantly prominent. That’s atmospheric, certainly, but it doesn’t conjure a sufficient sense of the epic..."
"Yet as a chamber piece, the production – directed by Jonathan Butterell, Sells’ collaborator on the hit British musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – has its own delicate, stirring power. And it is beautifully performed by Mike Faist (Spielberg’s West Side Story) and Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)."
"Faist and Hedges are riveting: Hedges’ Ennis almost vibrates with suppressed hunger and a jittery awareness of how dangerously transgressive, in a hyper-masculine environment, their love is..."
"Ashley Robinson’s intimate adaptation of Brokeback Mountain"
"... it was a short story by Annie Proulx. It’s that story that Ashley Robinson’s new play adapts, creating an intimate work for stage."
"The contrast between them is beautifully delineated by Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges. Faist’s Jack, talkative, sparky and impulsive, has a lithe, easy charm and rarely stops moving; Hedges’ Ennis, laconic, cautious and introverted, sits silent and withdrawn as his companion rattles on."
"The flashback format is awkward, obliging Hickey to hang around a lot with little to do. But Jonathan Butterell’s atmospheric staging is laced with country-inflected music by Dan Gillespie Sells (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie), delivered by a terrific onstage band with Scottish singer-songwriter Eddie Reader on vocals, Greg Miller on harmonica and BJ Cole on pedal steel guitar."
"Tender moments illuminate a faithful yet distanced adaptation of Annie Proulx’s cowboy love story"
"Jonathan Butterell’s production is faithful in gesture and in phrase (“balls on him the size of apples”) to Proulx’s earth-shaking tale. Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges – understated yet intensely focused – are both terrific"
"Individual moments are exquisitely rendered."
"The pulse of longing is captured by an evocative onstage band of pedal steel guitar, harmonica, upright bass and Eddi Reader, singing both smoothly and with a touch of rasp; songs are by Dan Gillespie Sells. The effect is of a fine elegy but one without risk. The tale deserves both barrels."
@sohoplace Theatre, London