Touching The Void, Review | Royal & Derngate Northampton

Based on the award winning book and documentary film, Touching the Void presents the heart stopping, toe curling true story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates’ formidable climb up Siula Grand.

Written by David Greig and directed by Tom Morris, this ambitious new play amazingly transports the audience right to the cliff edge; watching with bated breath as the horrific events unfold.

Joe Simpson (Josh Williams) and Simon Yates (Edward Hayter), two young British climbers set themselves the challenge of climbing an untouched route of Siula Grande, a mountain located in the Andes. Climbing ‘Alpine style’ they only used the basics of equipment with simply a rope to tie the two men together. The two climbers’ base camp is looked after by Richard Hawking (Patrick Mcnamee) a gap year student looking to get in on some of the adventure. On their descent, Joe has a near-fatal fall breaking his right leg and becomes separated from Simon, connected only by 300ft of rope. Frozen and exhausted, with no idea whether or not his climbing partner is still alive, Simon must decide whether or not to cut the rope.

In the book, Simpson speaks of the ‘voice’ in his head – the inner monologue that got him through one of the physically and mentally toughest battles a human could face. Greig interestingly presented this character as Sarah (Fiona Hampton), Joe’s brash, straight talking older sister. The sibling relationship (based on truth), built on tough love and banter was really well developed and added an interesting take on Joe’s mental battle. Sarah acts as a straight talking motivator, guiding Joe through the agonising journey by breaking it down into achievable steps. She also teases him by wailing ‘Brown Girl in the ring’ as motivation to walk through the extreme pain and exhaustion.

The soundtrack to the piece was excellent, if not varied, with the contrasting use of Jon Nicholl’s cinematic score of howling winds to the lovely use of the tracks of ‘Desert Island Discs’ a compilation of songs chosen by Joe Simpson himself. Mcnamee beautifully sang a number of these acoustically, creating melancholy as Richard and Simon sat at base camp believing they are never to see Joe again.

Touching The Void by David Greig, directed by Tom Morris. Bristol Old Vic Theatre. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

To present the scale and enormity of the mountain was no mean feat yet Ti Green’s seemingly abstract set had a mountainous impact. An abstract metal structure, with patchy white material that the actors would cut through with their pick axes as they scaled the structure. The physical stamina required was immense, particularly for Joe. Despite never climbing much more than 15 feet high, we were taken thousands of feet into the thin mountain air. Richard also creates a replica of the terrain that the two men crossed to reach the peak of the mountain out of the contents of the pub. Using chairs, a gents toilet sign and bar trays he lays out the epic landscape of the journey, charmingly using two peanuts and a piece of string to represent his two friends.

Mcnamee as Richard was a delight to watch, his soft Geordie accent matched perfectly with the bumbling but kind hearted nature of the character. He is a writer with a desperate yearning for some ‘drama’ for him to put to paper and drama he is certainly given. He works excellently as a character to help tell the story from a different perspective.

The four hand cast were all extremely strong, Josh William depicted the excruciating pain felt by Joe so truthfully that often it was very difficult to watch. Each movement of his leg was shortly met with a blood curdling convincing scream of agony. A character so close to death but constantly reminded that he’s not dead ‘yet’ so must continue this fight. Why? Because he had a choice, he was given an opportunity to live so must grab on to it.

Despite the comfort of knowing that Joe Simpson lived on to tell his epic story to the world, I couldn’t help but keep asking myself ‘How is he going to get through this? I was gripped.

Touching The Void is on at Royal & Derngate until the 20th of October where after it continues its run internationally and globally.

Production: Wed 10 October 2018, Royal & Derngate Northampton