Guide to ’Brokeback Mountain' starring Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges

From how to get Brokeback Mountain tickets to when to see the world premiere in London, here’s your ultimate guide to Brokeback Mountain at @sohoplace.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

May sees a much-anticipated world premiere: the stage version of Brokeback Mountain at London’s hot new venue, Soho Place. Originally a short story by Annie Proulx and later turned into an Oscar-winning movie by Ang Lee, this newest incarnation is billed as “a play with music” — rather than a fully-fledged musical.

However, it does feature several members of the creative team of the homegrown musical theatre success, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, including composer Dan Gillespie Sells, director Jonathan Butterell and producer Nica Burns.

Find out all about this new incarnation of Brokeback Mountain, as well as the story’s origins and previous adaptations, in our definitive guide.

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The origins of Brokeback Mountain

American author and journalist Edna Ann Proulx, usually billed professionally as Annie Proulx or E Annie Proulx, is best known for her 1999 fiction collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories, and for her 1993 novel The Shipping News. The latter was also adapted: it became a film starring Kevin Spacey, Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, and Julianne Moore in 2001.

Her Pulitzer-nominated Wyoming short story collection (the first of three centred around the rural state) featured the acclaimed “Brokeback Mountain”, which was also published as a novella in The New Yorker and won the O Henry Prize. The tale focuses on two young workers — Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist — hired to look after the sheep at a seasonal grazing range on the fictional titular mountain in 1963.

The pair form a passionate bond, but both marry women and keep their love a secret. We follow their lives over the next 20 years as they have families and continue to see one another now and again, but never make the leap to being together full-time.

Brokeback Mountain the movie

In 2005, Proulx’s tale became a major Hollywood movie directed by Ang Lee. It starred Heath Ledger as Ennis and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack, along with Michelle Williams as Ennis’s wife Alma, and Anne Hathaway as Jack’s wife Lureen.

Critics widely praised the film, which later translated into commercial success too — a landmark moment for mainstream queer cinema. It won three Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score, but, infamously, lost out in the Best Picture category to the much-inferior Crash, with some speculating that the snub was due to conservative voters feeling uncomfortable about the central gay romance.

Brokeback Mountain the opera

The Soho Place production won't be the first time that the story has been told on stage. In 2014, the Teatro Real of Madrid premiered an opera composed by Charles Wuorinen, with a libretto by Proulx, and directed by Ivo van Hove.

Wuorinen was inspired by the doomed lovers aspect of Proulx’s story, feeling that it was inherently operatic: a contemporary version of stories where differences in social class denied love. Gerard Mortier originally commissioned the work at New York City Opera. However the show moved to Madrid when Mortier took up a new post there. Brokeback Mountain later opened in Germany and Austria.

What can we expect from the Brokeback Mountain play?

That’s the big question ahead of this new venture. The adaptation is by the American writer and actor Ashley Robinson, whose previous performing work includes Maria Friedman’s legendary Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier Chocolate Factory and in the West End (now a Broadway production starring Daniel Radcliffe), and the world premiere of Steve Martin’s bluegrass musical Bright Star.

As a writer, Robinson’s other projects include the Southern Gothic musical Lockhart, a collaboration with Jason Carr; the musical 5 & Dime, about a James Dean fan club, written with his Brokeback Mountain partner Dan Gillespie Sells; and the musical Fall of ’94, about a notorious murder. However, it’s fair to say he’s more of an emerging voice as a writer, which makes him an exciting choice for this high-profile project.

As for Gillespie Sells, frontman for The Feeling, he had huge success with his first-ever musical, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, creating distinctive music that brilliantly fuelled the drama. Hopefully, he can do the same here, supplying country and western songs to be performed live by Scottish singer-songwriter Eddi Reader (also known as “The Balladeer”) — rather than sung directly by the actors.

Who is in Brokeback Mountain?

As with the movie, the casting of that central duo is vital, and the Soho Place production has an exciting pair of rising stars in place — both making their West End debuts.

Playing Ennis is American actor Lucas Hedges, who was Oscar-nominated for the movie Manchester by the Sea. His other screen credits include Moonrise Kingdom, Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and (an interesting precursor to Brokeback Mountain) the gay conversion therapy drama Boy Erased. Hedges also starred in The Waverly Gallery on Broadway.

Co-starring as Jack is fellow American actor Mike Faist, best known to audiences here for his electrifying Bafta-nominated performance as Riff in Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story. Faist was part of the original company of the Broadway musical Newsies, playing Morris Delancey and understudying the lead role of Jack Kelly (played by Jeremy Jordan). He also originated the key role of Connor Murphy in Dear Evan Hansen — earning him a Tony nomination.

Will Brokeback Mountain on stage be the same as the film?

Instead of the characters bursting into song, that decision to have atmospheric music suggests it won’t be too dissimilar in style to Lee’s beautifully understated, meditative movie. It certainly makes sense dramatically that these two rough-hewn ranch hands might struggle to articulate emotion in song; Brokeback Mountain is set in 1960s America, a time and place when men weren’t expected to talk about their feelings.

However, we’ll likely see a different approach in terms of structure and how Jonathan Butterell’s production evokes the sense of the all-important landscape, since the stage show can’t literally show us the mountains or jump around the country as easily. It will be fascinating to see how the new stage version of Brokeback Mountain finds a new theatrical language for this enduring tale — and we’re lucky to see it in London first.

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