The stage adaptation to Joe Simpson’s 1988 novel Touching the Void promises a heart-rending and exciting experience, not to mention one with some ingenious tricks up its sleeve.
Background to Touching the Void
Joe Simpson’s account of his near-fatal but successful summit with climbing partner Simon Yates of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes has spawned a successful book and Bafta-winning documentary. This stage production creates a “holy trinity of Touching the Void” for armchair mountaineers, or those that have followed Joe Simpson’s career.
One of the biggest achievements of this production has been making the story accessible to all, from those who have never heard of an ice axe to experienced mountaineers. Equally commendable is the creative efforts of the production to bring the mountains to the stage, and challenge the audience to ask themselves hard questions.
Bringing the Mountains to the Stage
How do you bring the mountains of Peru to a London stage? That was the chief question in my head as I entered the theatre. That, and how the production team planned to convey the thrill of climbing, and the peril and challenges that come with the sport.
The audience is initially taken on a whirlwind journey of climbing with Joe Simpson’s sister, Sarah, as Simon tries to help her understand the motivation behind Joe’s climbing after his presumed death. Pub tables and chairs are stacked precariously into makeshift mountains, and lights and music give the stage a breezy, outdoorsy atmosphere as Sarah experiences the exhilaration of climbing.
Most impressive however, is the Siula prop during Simon and Joe’s Siula summit attempt. A humongous, moving angular frame complete with paper sections to simulate ice climbing, it brings the drama and potential dangers of climbing to the stage.
Touching on Tricky Topics
For families that were considering taking their young kids, take note: there is a lot of swearing in Touching the Void. A lot. To be fair though, if you had to drag yourself down a mountain, you would have a few choice words too.
The most poignant moment in the production is when Simon cuts the rope holding Joe after his fall. In the past, Simon has received a lot of criticism for his actions. Touching the Void recreates this scene and even challenges the audience with the same conundrum. What seems black and white from the comfort of your chair is far more nuanced with injury, uncertainty, inclement weather and the threat of death hanging over every move.
Touching the Void Review Verdict:
The theatre production of Touching the Void brings all the thrill and chilling drama of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates’ expedition to the audience. Whether you’re a newbie to climbing or a seasoned dirtbag climber, Touching the Void successfully conveys the challenges and kaleidoscope of emotions in Joe Simpson’s memoir to this play.
With the production set to run at the Duke of York theatre until 29 February 2020 and tickets going for as little as £15 quid, adventurers of all forms should be scrambling to grab a ticket.