Review of ‘Brokeback Mountain’: “Still a piece of us”

Annie Proulx’s turning-point story grips audiences’ hearts again through the world premiere of its stage adaptation. Guillermo Nazara shares his thoughts on this biting play dealing with the greatest need of the human soul, to share all the details about this new version of probably the best-known secret love story.

It was not that too long ago that my mind was pierced by guilt, remorse and, ultimately, fear. 2006 had barely started and the recent talk of the town was that Hollywood film about “those two gays” (you may have guessed which term they actually used) that apparently was going to make it to the Oscars. Those were not words of approval – it was just an observation. But to a closeted gay fellow who was only 12 by that time, it meant everything.

Proulx’s story had depicted a reality that, despite being set decades before many of us had even been born, we couldn’t help but feeling connected to. We all have a yearning for love and to be loved. But for some fickle reason, only some are allowed to. Brokeback Mountain was (and still is) a trigger for both our hopes and terrors. Seeing for the first time a mainstream plot about a sex-same relationship (however difficult it was) suggested that perhaps the tide was turning. But at the same time, the unfriendly world they were forced to face proposed just the opposite – especially when the people around you endorsed what the film was supposed to criticize…

Years have passed and our lives have evolved. So has this narrative. But that doesn’t imply it has aged. Because actually, it hasn’t at all. Same time period, same message but a different feel, Ashley Robinson’s adaptation has managed to update the piece by staying faithful while, in concert, going with the flow of modern times. In the movie, their longing was more sexually instinctive. They cared about each other, but regardless of some romantic dialogue, the final vibe was that they kept seeing each other due to that mutual secret they could not expose to anybody else.

Robinson’s take explores a deeper bond. Their longing comes from the merge of two souls that are meant to be together. The sensuality remains, but it’s the sentimental side that bursts in this montage, resulting in a more compelling and moving recount. Directed by Jonathan Butterell, the plot moves with an inviting rhythm, building up the pacing at the same speed as the leads’ emotions progress. There’s a few moments that would require a longer dramatic pause for them to work, as well as the fact that the use of the lead’s older self observing the whole plot wears out its purpose, rather if he only appeared during the key sections. But the overall sensation is that the production functions flawlessly and with enticing theatricality.

Such success is also provided by Dan Gillespie Sells’s immensely touching and sincere songs – giving movement and passion to the performance by creating intimate transitions through words and melodies, underlining the steps that both characters and viewers take in this journey. Seamlessly integrated within the narration, with some very inventive resources for that effect, the whole staging operates in perfect harmony, thanks to Tom Pye’s essential but highly expressive set design and David Finn’s enveloping lighting.

Starring Mike Faist as Jack Twist and Lucas Hedges as Ennis Del Mar, both actors excel with a captivating portrayal of their roles, but primarily due to the charming chemistry they’ve managed to build between them. The most private scenes achieve a new level of rapport due to the sense of togetherness they raise with their renditions, once again attaching the public to a plot we somehow feel as a part of, rather than just witnesses. The other great mention goes to Eddi Reader as the Balladeer, giving an incredibly heartfelt performance of the musical numbers with an arresting mixture of gentle solemnity and rough beauty.

We all know the story, and still we’re up to hear it again. We want to, but we also need it. Memories are bound to return through this watch. Some of them will be nostalgic, but others not be as kind. Tears are likely to be shed. And some scarring feelings from the past may come back as well. It’s a powerful story. And it has been delivered with the same inspiration of its original form, featuring different but equally strong ingredients than the ones that turned the film into an icon. All in all, making of it a definite must-see of this season… I swear.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

All pictures credit to Manuel Harlan.

Brokeback Mountain plays at the Soho Place until 12 August. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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