Tag Archives: Soho Place Theatre

“Brokeback Mountain” at the Soho Place Theatre

Annie Proulx’s short story is about atmosphere rather than action. The troubled love affair between cowboys Ennis and Jack is a powerful tale of repression and loss, but part of what makes it special is that not that much really happens. Bringing the story to the stage is a tough call that Ashley Robinson’s adaptation and Jonathan Butterell’s direction handle intelligently. It is a shame that the results are mixed.

Butterell has secured fine performances from the show’s exciting casting. Here are two West End stage debuts to take note of. Stars from the States, Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges, are strong as Jack and Ennis respectively. Hedges makes the taciturn Ennis a strong figure whose torment over his sexuality bubbles under the surface. Faist’s Jack is charismatic, full of energy and humour, but the audience can still see his pain. As for that all-important chemistry, Butterell takes advantage of the venue’s intimacy to create quiet, moving moments.

Despite the enjoyable performances, with Faist and Hedges easily holding the stage and showing impressive confidence, the pace overall feels regrettably rushed. A sense of time passing and opportunities lost isn’t conveyed and the show comes close to being cold. Jack’s statement that “we could have had a good life together” comes as something of a shock – it seems we are near the end of the show too soon. The meditative quality of the source material is lost.

There is little sense of menace in the piece. The men’s employer is aware of the affair and simply disapproves, while in the final scene Jack’s mother seems sympathetic. As part of a lack of threat, Jack’s wife is reduced to a slim figure (despite Emily Fairn’s commendable efforts in the role). It becomes hard to remember the risks being run by the couple’s romantic getaways and why the two cannot live together. Meanwhile, there is the device of an ‘older’ Ennis watching the action. It’s not a bad idea, and adds some melancholy moments, but having him continually on stage means that the role blends into the background, despite Paul Hickey’s commitment.

Eddie Reader in Brokeback Mountain
Eddi Reader

Firmer ground come with the show’s most innovative move – the music. Described as a play with songs, rather than a musical, it’s the compositions by Dan Gillespie Sells that add most to seeing the story on stage. Eddi Reader performs with an excellent band – it all sounds wonderful. What we hear, with the aid of Christopher Shutt’s impressive sound design, provides romance, tension, humour and, above all, atmosphere. The pace that the show needs is clearest here – more music might have led to more emotion.

Until 12 August 2023


Photo by Manuel Harlan

“Marvellous” at the Soho Place Theatre

For the opening of the first purpose-built theatre in London for 50 years, a production from the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme, is sweet. Unfortunately, Marvellous does not live up to a title that tempts fate.

Yet Marvellous has many admirable qualities. Like its subject (and one of its writers), Neil Baldwin, the show is all about feeling good. An eccentric character who did not let any label stand in his way, Baldwin is an inspirational figure. And although it’s based on a film, director Theresa Heskins tries to make the show as theatrical as possible. Well done.

The New Vic is in the round – just like this new swanky venue. I suspect that made the transfer seem like a good idea and Heskins handles the format expertly. But an easy fit doesn’t make up for the show’s failings or even play to its strengths. The latter first. While Baldwin was a true local hero (and mascot for the football club), a lot of information about the Potteries is taken for granted. The detail would go down great where the show comes from, but the jokes (and the nostalgia) need tweaking for a wider audience.

As for failings – well, maybe that’s a bit harsh. There’s nothing wrong with Marvellous… but it is long. And it’s too clear that an easy edit would improve the show considerably.

The performances are good, especially Suzanne Ahmet who plays (mostly) Neil’s mother, and Gareth Cassidy who shows off a lot of accents. The cast nearly all take on the role of Neil through his life so there are lots of jokes about performance and the acting craft. And they are joined by a ‘Real Neil’ (Perry Moore did a great job the night I saw the show), whose naivety adds to this source of fun. Everyone is hard working, with slapstick and physical comedy thrown in.

The problem is that every joke is repeated.

It’s sweet that Neil has a ‘magic’ shopping bag that props appear from, that the cast pretend to be cupboards, or that local radio presenters who comment on the footie are impersonated. But we don’t need these jokes in triplicate. While the story is fun and Neil Baldwin winning, it does go on… and on. The ideas on inclusion and community can’t be argued with. But the delivery is laboured and the message ends up heavy handed.

Until 26 November 2022