Tag Archives: Jonathan Butterell

Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain





Brokeback Mountain

“Dan Gillespie Sells’ minimalist score is the pulse of the piece. The songs are an essential narrative. A mood board and a close-up lens.”


Let us begin with what “Brokeback Mountain” is not. It is not a musical, most certainly not a queer musical. Nor is it a flag bearer for the LGBTQ community. Ashley Robinson’s ninety-minute play with music, based on Annie Proulx’s deeply moving novella, defies categorisation. It simply rests on its own uniqueness, to be gently devoured by the watcher. Comparisons to Ang Lee’s 2005 feature film should be avoided. Jonathan Butterell’s production has a voice of its own, sometimes barely more than a whisper, but one whose effects will rise above a lot of the clamour in the West End.

The story is one of forbidden love, framed within the memory of an ageing Ennis Del Mar (Paul Hickey). We are invited to remember a time and a place where being gay could very well be fatal. We are in a scrubland of back-country homophobia that shapes the destinies of two home-grown country kids; ill-informed and confused but wading, ultimately drowning, in bittersweet longing. Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges plays Ennis Del Mar, fearful and quiet, and ‘not much of a talker’, as pointed out by Mike Faist’s brisk and breezy Jack Twist.

They meet in 1963, both hired hands on Joe Aguirre’s (the charismatic Martin Marquez) sheep ranch. Sharing roll-ups and campfire banter, their laddish camaraderie evolves into a drunken fumbling which, after insisting is a one-time affair, becomes a lifelong passion – detached from, yet destroying their respective marriages, families and their own sense of themselves. Their presence is quite magnetic, but the onstage chemistry is not always strong enough to express the deep sense of longing.

The full force of the emotional landscape is brought to us through the music. Dan Gillespie Sells’ minimalist score is the pulse of the piece. The songs are an essential narrative. A mood board and a close-up lens. Greg Miller’s yearning harmonica with BJ Cole’s pedal steel guitar fill the silences with an emotional depth the dialogue can only dream of. Sean Green’s restrained leitmotifs on the piano perfectly underpin the plaintive vocals. Eddi Reader’s voice has a gorgeous purity, scratched by a smoky rawness that echoes the spirit of the protagonists and guides us to their hearts.

The intimacy of the play is captured, too, in Tom Pye’s thoughtful design, drifting from canvas and campfires to the chipped furnishings of Ennis’ home. There the story reaches beyond the central couple shining a light on the sad neglect of Ennis’ wife, Alma. In a stunning stage debut, Emily Fairn subtly exposes the danger that her husband has put himself in. And consequently, the danger for herself too. At its core, “Brokeback Mountain” is a tragedy of two people having to keep their love hidden from the world. But the repercussions go further, touching each and all, which Fairn brilliantly emphasises. Similarly, backing singer Sophie Reid, in a heart-wrenching cameo as Jack Twist’s wife, Lureen, brings home the aching tragedy.

“If you can’t fix it, you gotta stand it” intones Jack Twist, more than once. Fortunately, since the time this is set in, society has ceased to stand it and started to try fixing it. Unfortunately, however, the play’s desolate ending is not something that is confined to history. “Brokeback Mountain” is an important piece of theatre. Compelling and tender. Powerful but fragile. Gentle yet hard-hitting. And quite unmissable.



Reviewed on 19th May 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan



Recently reviewed by Jonathan:

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Without Really Trying | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse Borough | May 2023
Once On This Island | ★★★★ | Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre | May 2023
The Merchant Of Venice 1936 | ★★★★ | Watford Palace Theatre | March 2023
The Great British Bake Off Musical | ★★★ | Noël Coward Theatre | March 2023
The Tragedy Of Macbeth | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse Borough | March 2023
Ruddigore | ★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | March 2023
Killing The Cat | ★★ | Riverside Studios | March 2023
Cirque Berserk! | ★★★★★ | Riverside Studios | February 2023
David Copperfield | ★★★★★ | Riverside Studios | February 2023
Dom – The Play | ★★★★ | The Other Palace | February 2023



Click here to read all our latest reviews


Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – West End Transfer

Once upon a time there was a 16-year-old boy who had a secret he wanted to tell … So, he approached a documentary film maker as you do, and asked if they would help him tell it. The resulting documentary was seen by a theatre director and it inspired him to create a musical. A producing regional theatre backed him. He then bumped into a famous musical theatre star who introduced him to a well-known pop composer who was working with a lyricist and book writer. The theatre put on the production. A major producer saw it and offered them a West End theatre.

So, thanks to Jamie Campbell, Firecracker Films, Michael Ball, Sheffield Theatres and Nica Burns, a new British musical by a new British theatre writing and directing team, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie opens at the Apollo Theatre on Wednesday 22 November 2017.

Sheffield Crucible Production Cast. Photo by Johan Persson

Jamie New is sixteen and lives on a council estate in Sheffield. Jamie doesn’t quite fit in. Jamie is terrified about the future. Jamie is going to be a sensation. Supported by his brilliant loving mum and surrounded by his friends, Jamie overcomes prejudice, beats the bullies and steps out of the darkness, into the spotlight.

This fearless, funny, fabulous brand new musical sensation hits London with catchy new songs by lead singer-songwriter of The Feeling Dan Gillespie Sells and writer Tom MacRae. Sixteen: the edge of possibility. Time to make your dreams come true.

John McCrea in Sheffield Crucible Production. Photo by Johan Persson

John McCrea will reprise his role of Jamie, alongside the majority of the Sheffield Crucible cast including: Josie Walker, Mina Anwar, Tamsin Carroll and Daniel Anthony, Luke Baker, Courtney Bowman, James Gillian, Harriet Payne, Shiv Rabheru, Lucie Shorthouse, Kirstie Skivington.

Director Jonathan Butterell, Composer Dan Gillespie Sells and writer and lyricist Tom MacRae said:

“After Everybody’s Talking About Jamie was commissioned we spent three hours in a wig room in Sheffield in which we wrote the complete plot and framework for the show before catching the train back to London. The three of us just clicked and we were instantly a team. It has been a new adventure for all of us, this is our first musical and going from zero to West End has felt like a fairy tale.
There is a bit of all three of us that has ended up in Jamie. We knew we needed a very specially talented performer to play him and when John McCrea walked into the room he was perfect. We hope that audiences will see a bit of Jamie in themselves too.”

Producer and theatre owner Nica Burns said:

“Everybody seemed to be talking about the show so I went to see the final matinee in Sheffield with no expectations. I came out of the auditorium singing the tunes having laughed, cried, laughed again and dancing with happiness. I found the director, and immediately offered to produce the show in London at one of my theatres. It had to come to the West End. This is an uplifting musical for our times and for everyone.”






Apollo Theatre | 31 Shaftesbury Avenue | London W1D 7ES


Booking number: 0330 333 4809







PREVIEWS FROM : Monday 6th November 2017


Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm

Matinees – Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm


Ticket prices – £10 to £65