Based on the book by Joe Simpson
Adaptation: David Greig
Director: Tom Morris
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
You may be acquainted with his story, but few will ever understand what Joe Simpson went through. Broken, frozen and clinging to the lip of the void as well as his life. Launching the Lyceum’s 2019 repertoire is David Greig’s stage adaptation of Simpson’s book Touching the Void.
In throes of survival our bodies desperately burning themselves to struggle, it’s cognitive thoughts that become the greatest enemy. Grieg sculpts a text which plays with this. Together with Tom Morris in telling the story for the theatre, the focus is less so on overcoming the climb. Instead, they desire to tackle the area theatre can explore best, the perilous overcoming of our own minds.
Greig’s ambitious usage of ‘fantasia’ in exploring the minds’ spasms in moments of desperation works against a lot of the epic scale brought to the production. In an effort to differentiate from the award-winning documentary and Simpson’s own book Greig pushes too hard for delusion over reality. Parts can work such as the inclusion of Sarah, Joe’s sister as an internal voice taunting him to force his shattered body across the ice.
Any man will tell you that if anyone can make him crawl over ice with broken limbs, it’s his big sister. The inclusion of Sarah presents a touching addition. In his biography, Joe has confirmed an internal voice was egging him to strive whilst trapped. Morris and Greig’s decision to make this voice Sarah adds a respectful level to the fantasia discussed. With Fiona Hampton conveying a distraught yet desperately inquisitive Sarah.
What really doesn’t work however are the untimely comedic turns, often coupled with peculiar musical interludes. Josh Williams emotive bursts of Joe’s plight are well-handled, but the accompanying bass solo does no favours. Though the inclusion of Simpson’s desert island discs on a battered jukebox is a pleasant way to integrate sound design with the mind’s betrayal and distraction.
Once more Ti Green enhances the experience with his multi-dimensional set design. Whilst most would aim to convey the height of the mountain, Green forces our perspective instead into the void. As furniture is whirled off-stage into the black abyss, our performers scale a framework filled with nooks, twists and stretches of broken ice.
Sasha Milavic Davies’ movement direction allows the cast to scale the theatre as if it were the mountain itself. Making use of the Lyceum’s stage bringing much of the production to the forefront, nothing but a sea of darkness behind, the eternal void of the mountain, and of death’s ever-presence.
Rarely does theatrical experiences capture the finality of accepting one’s mortality. In an exhilaratingly staged show, it’s a travesty that such gritted potential is spoiled by one-note characters and an ambitious but ill-utilised fantasy which stretches into realms better left alone.
Visceral in construct, attempting to capture loss whilst still practising its own ‘Alpen’ style of theatre. Touching the Void is barebones, raw in parts but let down by awkward characterisations and unwelcome tone shifts. Touching the Void seeks to separate itself from its origins somewhat, and in doing so has forgotten the key aspects of what makes Joe Simpson’s experience engaging.
Runs until 16 February 2019 | Image: Contributed