Steamy cowboy encounter becomes a mountaintop yawnfest: LUKE JONES reviews Brokeback Mountain

How to turn a steamy cowboy encounter into a yawnfest on the mountain top: LUKE JONES reviews Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain (Soho Place Theatre, London)

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.

Cowboys Jack and Ennis are as tough as pre-washed denim. Jack rattles on about rodeo; Ennis is a downbeat old soul — Levi Strauss might well have labelled him ‘distressed’.

The glitzy new Soho Place Theatre, which has the soulless, empty sheen of a space-age conference centre, has been roughed up to resemble the windswept wilds of Wyoming. Tasked with keeping an eye on the sheep, our boys wait out the boredom and the weather by falling in love and making mad, passionate love in a tent. We’ve all been there.

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.

Mike Faist as Jack and Lucas Hedges as Ennis in the adaptation of Annie Proulx’s story, Brokeback Mountain

Mike Faist as Jack is a bouncy, charismatic whippet of a man. You warm to him instantly and roll with his fury at their contained romance.

Lucas Hedges’s Ennis is a quiet lad, but there’s not enough beyond that — nothing behind those pensive and brooding eyes.

So much so that when he dives into the sack, after barely hammering home the tent pegs, it makes no sense.

Where’s the sexual tension? Where’s the emotional foreplay? The glances? The stray touches? Nothing. 

From stand-offish colleagues to a canvas-rattling romp in the time it takes to toast a marshmallow. Choose the wrong moment to sneak a sip of your drink and you’ll miss it.

When they can meet, they don’t look comfortable in each other’s arms. I won’t be so rude as to say they look like shop mannequins stacked in a backroom, but it’s not far off.

Even the fights look choreographed: punch, two, three, four, slap, two, three, four.

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. The exceptions which prove the rule are one spicy row and a tragic twist I won’t spoil.

Oddly, the latter is entirely down to the performance of a band member (Sophie Reid) providing a voice down a telephone line.

General view of the atmosphere at the world premiere stage adaptation of Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain" at Soho Place Theatre, London on May 18, 2023

General view of the atmosphere at the world premiere stage adaptation of Annie Proulx’s ‘Brokeback Mountain’ at Soho Place Theatre, London on May 18, 2023

Quite a bit of emotional work is sublet to the band. This is a play with songs, not a musical as some had hoped.

However, I’m not sure a leggy-chorus line would have helped things along. Former Fairground Attraction lead singer Eddi Reader, perched on a stool, gives us a good Tammy Wynette impression as she delivers original songs by Dan Gillespie Sells. 

A double bass is tenderly slapped and the most passionate lips of the night are clamped to a harmonica.

The night I went, there was no queue for the ladies loo. The house was packed with gay men of a certain age, expecting something special.

But I watched as yawns set off yawns, like mouse traps setting off mouse traps. Adapting a much-loved film is no safe bet.