Touching the Void in front rooms everywhere
From May 26 to Saturday, May29
Oxford Playhouse theatre review by Jon Lewis
The summit of live online drama
However good live online drama has been during the pandemic, the experience of missing a play in a theatre in the company of other theatregoers has left a big hole in many people’s lives. Tom Morris’ brilliant Bristol Old Vic revival of David Greig’s play Touching the Void fills that artistic void in entertaining a sizeable number of people in the theatre itself, and way more from all over the world online. Theatregoers at home see the play differently to those in the beautiful horseshoe-shaped theatre, often thrillingly, due to the point of view of the cameras filming the show from above and below the protagonists.
Touching the Void was originally a book written by mountaineer Joe Simpson; the play begins with Joe’s sister Sarah (Fiona Hampton) meeting Joe’s fellow mountaineer Simon (Angus Yellowlees) and their tourist companion, the hippy, dippy traveller Richard (Patrick McNamee) for Joe’s wake in a pub in Scotland. They believe Joe died after falling into a ice crevasse on Siula Grande, a mountain in Peru, Simon having cut the rope that tied him to Joe on the descent of the mountain. Simon inducts Sarah into the world of mountaineering, the sides of the pub, and the walls of the theatre, becoming climbing rocks for Sarah to clamber up or abseil down.
The staging recreates Andean conditions out of upturned chairs, a lounge sign and a couple of boards. The scale of man to mountain is ingeniously depicted with peanuts placed next to the theatre walls. Our imaginations are fired by the herculean task of ascending such a fearful mountain. We watch Joe (Josh Williams) joining Simon on designer Ti Green’s meshed climbing frame as they adventure on top of the world, delivered with realistic accuracy by Jon Nicholls’ sound design of roaring wind, and Chris Davey’s flashing lighting design.
Joe’s descent down the mountain, hampered by a broken leg and a lack of gas for heating food, is incredibly tense theatre. Joe imagines Sarah as a fairy motivational godmother, her unreal presence essential to Joe’s mental fortitude. Wonderfully staged, this is a triumph for all theatre fans.