06 June 2023
4.5 out of 5.0 stars
Ah, another movie to stage production, and another one I was very sceptical about. The 2005 film sits very close to my heart, so I had to go and check out if the stage production can hold up.
With a 90-minute run-through staging, one might think that there is not enough time to really build the tension and emotional depths that the story relies on, but that is a mistaken assumption. Everyone’s favourite “gay cowboy film” gets a deserving stage make-over that is deeply touching and emotionally devastating.
Opening with an older man in bed, waking in a dreary room, forlorn and lonely, clearly reminiscing and grieving. He is an ever-present watcher on the outskirts of the open stage, leading the audience through memories of his life. With an accompanying soundtrack that speaks of yearning, regret, love and loss, longing and hope, sometimes coming through a radio on stage, more often played by a live band just off the main stage. It’s a haunting and fitting array of songs that really sets the mood throughout the show, though at times feeling a bit heavy handed.
The story works surprisingly well on the sparse stage, focussing the viewer’s attention on the actors rather than distracting scenery. The set is quite impressive in fact, with a kitchenette, table, and bed rising out of the ground, retracting when they are not needed. Grassy, reedy patches around the edges of the stage, a tent thrown in one corner, a bonfire in another. The sparseness works incredibly well to set the scene and give focus on the emotional developments between characters.
While the plot does seem rushed at times, it still convinces with the stellar work of the actors using silences just as well as dialogue to convey the connections between and rich inner lives of the main characters. Quiet and stoic Ennis, with his older counterpart watching on, remembering his life, struggling to make sense of his feelings in a world that does not accept them. Wild and chatty Jack, rodeo enthusiast and seemingly with few concerns in a harsh world, and gradually ageing into a more settled and measured man, yet never losing his edge and lust for life. And especially Alma, Ennis’ wife, who doesn’t get a lot of stage time, but uses it masterfully, crafting a rich character with a deep emotional array portrayed subtly but convincingly with just a few gestures and nuanced words.
It is a beautiful exploration of the film, and the short story the film was based on, staying true to the screen plot as much as possible, celebrating its range of emotion and not shying away from the harsher realities of hidden love. From the sniffles and wiping of eyes around me I can confidently say that I am not the only one who felt this was a deeply moving, intensely emotional play. If you liked Brokeback Mountain, do yourself a favour and head to SohoPlace to see this fantastic production!