A slow-burning drama with songs by Dan Gillespie Sells, it is the story of two latter-day cowboys that begins in 1963 and ends 20 years later.
Garrulous rodeo bull rider Jack (Mike Faist, West Side Story) and moody, monosyllabic Ennis (Lucas Hedges, Manchester By The Sea) are employed to guard a flock of sheep on a remote mountain in Wyoming.
They both have girls back home awaiting their return. But in the course of their wintry confinement, they embark on a secret love affair that lasts for the next two decades.
The audience encircles the central acting area which is surrounded by arid soil, and a campfire is alight. A band to one side plays illuminating country and western ballads sung by Eddi Reader whose throaty vocals recall Lucinda Williams.
Both Hedges and Faist are simply wonderful as the cowboys who balance Marlboro Man machismo against the love that dares not speak its name.
Praise, too, for newcomer Emily Fairn as Ennis’s wife Alma, and Paul Hickey as the older Ennis who oversees the story like a ghost recalling his past life.
Beautifully paced, Jonathan Butterell’s direction is spare and uncluttered, allowing small details – the crunch of dry ground underfoot, the sprinkling of snow, the clank of a cooking pot – to maintain an atmosphere of idyllic isolation, a world inhabited solely by two men whose mutual love can only be undone by re-entering the “real” world.
Quietly compelling and infinitely sad, it haunts the memory long afterwards.
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