Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Butterell’

Annie Proulx’s short story has had an interesting trajectory over the 26 years since it was first published. There was Ang Lee’s award-winning film 8 years later, an opera another 9 years on, and now after another 9 years a play with music. You’d think the story of two men’s love for one another hardly radical 26 years later but its set in Wyoming, where things don’t appear to have moved on as much as in the rest of the world.

It’s set between 1963 and 1983. At the beginning, Jack and Ennis are in their early 20’s working as ranchers looking after sheep grazing in the mountain. When he’s not ranching, Jack has another life in the rodeo in Texas. Ennis has sweetheart Alma at home he’s planning to wed. Their relationship starts on a cold night when Ennis takes shelter in Jack’s tent. For a while they return annually and it continues and becomes stronger. Even when both are married with children, they meet up elsewhere under the auspices of fishing trips and the like.

It’s like any other clandestine love story. The love overpowers everything else and there’s just about nothing they can do about it. Their married lives continue, Ennis moving from job to job, just about making enough to feed his family, Jack funded largely by his father-in-law’s wealth. Communication between them is intermittent and the distance between them vast, but the relationship survives and continues until its tragic conclusion.

The in-the-round staging provides an intimate space in keeping with the story. There’s a live Americana soundtrack by Dan Gillespie Sells, whose score for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie was so good, with the wonderful Eddi Reader as a balladeer and a superb band of keyboard, double bass, pedal steel and harmonica led by MD Sean Green, who are key to the authentic representation of period, location and culture.

The chemistry between Mike Faist as Jack and Lucas Hedges as Ennis makes the relationship totally believable. Paul Hickey as an older Ennis is an onstage presence throughout, like a ghost, a silent narrator. Emily Fairn makes an auspicious professional stage debut as Alma. Jonathan Butterell’s staging and Tom Pye’s design both serve the story well.

I thought it was a bit slow at first, but once it takes off it draws you in. Though I’d seen the film, I was still gripped by the story, as if I was being told it for the first time, and I found the final part deeply moving. It’s impossible not to reflect on the homophobic murder of Matthew Shepard in that same state just a year after the story was first published.

Definitely one to catch.

Read Full Post »

This is a breath of fresh air for the West End, full of energy and life-affirming joy, and perhaps the first musical to be inspired by a documentary?

Sixteen-year-old Jamie wants to be a drag queen, and to wear a dress to the school prom. His divorced mum Margaret, her friend Ray and his bestie Pritti support him, but his dad, his school and some of his classmates don’t approve. He’s befriended and coached by Hugo, a former drag queen, now owner of a shop supplying drag outfits, and starts developing an act for an invited audience at the local drag club where three other drag queens also provide advice and support. The showcase goes ahead, followed by the even bigger challenge of the prom.

Dan Gillespie Sells score and Tom Macrae’s book and lyrics are excellent; they bring a fresh pop sound, rather than a bog standard musicals one, the style of songs changing to match the characters. Kate Prince’s choreography is simply terrific, again fresh rather than standard musicals movement. The school scenes in particular have extraordinary authenticity and high energy. I liked Anna Fleischle’s design, with projections by Luke Halls, and it’s staged with great pace by Jonathan Butterell.

It seems like a very happy cast, visibly enthusiastic, many of them transferring from Sheffield with the show. Lucie Shorthouse is outstanding as Pritti, comfortable with both her Muslim culture and Jamie’s personal choices. The relationship between Jamie and his mum is at the heart of the show and Josie Walker invests a lot of emotional energy into Margaret, with her big second act song feeling like a big hug from your mum. Mina Anwar is lovely as the ballsy Ray, who’s love for Margaret and Jamie knows no bounds. John McRea towers over all of this with a supremely confident, passionate performance; an astonishing West End debut.

I watched the documentary after seeing the show and it proves it’s very faithful to Jamie’s story. The show’s message of tolerance, of everyone being allowed to be who they are, comes over loud and clear in what is clearly a populist and critical success. Lets hope it’s a commercial success too, so that we can get more fresh air like this into the West End.

Read Full Post »