Theatre Review - Brokeback Mountain

It's hard to believe that Ang Lee’s award-winning 2005 film and now Ashley Robinson’s play with music originated as a short story. But that’s some measure of Annie Proulx’s talent as a writer. Robinson makes his playwriting debut with this poignant 90-minute adaptation of her stand-out tale, Brokeback Mountain.

Cowboys Jack (Mike Faist) and Ennis (Lucas Hedges) meet in the harsh, wild landscape of Wyoming in 1963. They accept work as a sheep herder and camp tender on the fictional mountain, earning a pittance.

Jack is the lighter of the two, fascinated with rodeo life – boasting of his bull-riding prowess – and confident that a better future awaits. Ennis is taciturn and keeps his cards close to the chest. But they are irresistibly drawn to one another and lust gradually turns to love.

The community they’ve been born into is conservative, insular and unforgiving.

Homophobia is rife. Ennis and Jack know they cannot live as they please and, consequently, never manage to fully articulate what they feel for one another.

They both marry and have children but continue to meet on short excursions or invented fishing trips for the next 20 years, until tragedy intervenes.

Full of regret, an older Ennis (Paul Hickey) looks back on their time together and fleeting happiness. The action is punctuated by Dan Gillespie-Sells’ evocative Country and Western ballads performed by Eddi Reader (Fairground Attraction) and her band.

While the film exploited Proulx landscape, Robinson focuses on the men’s intimacy.

American actors, Faist and Hedges, in their West End debuts, rise to the challenge and give stellar performances. Emily Fairn is also excellent as Ennis’s long-suffering wife Alma.

It’s beautifully staged in the round by Jonathan Butterell, complete with Tom Pye’s pup tent and camp fire, kitchen sink and double bed.

Intense, heartfelt drama.

To August 12

Originally published by Westminster Extra