Karin Johnstone reviews Touching the Void which is at Royal & Derngate, Northampton
You are 19,000 feet up a mountain in hazardous icy conditions roped to your climbing partner. He falls over a precipice. You can’t see him but he is dangling in the void his leg already crushed and broken into pieces. There is no way of pulling him back up – would you cut the rope to save yourself?
It’s been 30 years since climber Joe Simpson wrote his adventure story memoir Touching the Void, recounting his near fatal climb to the summit of Silua Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Touching the Void has been adapted by director Tom Morris and writer David Greig, bringing this survival story of one man against the elements onto the stage.
The play opens in the safety of the Clachaig Inn with Joe’s sister Sarah, fiercely challenging his climbing partner Simon about the point of climbing. Soon there is a beautifully choregraphed rap like scene with the climbers and Sarah rhythmically showing us how it’s done – thrusting your pick into the rock face and pulling yourself up higher and higher.
As soon as Fiona Hampton as Goth like Sarah appears on the stage, her energy and anger lead us through the story. Then Sarah asks Simon the crucial question. Why did you cut the rope? Simon takes her onto the rock face and makes her – and us – relive the moment, his agonising decision to cut the rope.
Designer Ti Green, has created an abstraction of the mountain, a white shifting metallic frame with its sharp steep angles and the climbers, played by Josh Williams and Edward Hayter, clamber and climb through it. The show is visceral and you are there with the climbers every step of their journey as they reach the summit until the moment of the fall.
Josh Williams takes us with him as Joe watching him hop, slide and drag his broken body across the terrain towards base camp. There are some moments of light relief, when we share his multi- coloured hallucinations of dancing nuns and elephants, in his moments of physical exhaustion. I guess you all know how it ends for Joe Simpson but this show is a thrilling retelling of one man’s determination to live.
Touching the Void runs at the Royal and Derngate until Saturday 20th October.