Touching the Void at the Royal & Derngate Northampton Review

9-20 October 2018

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Reviewed by Janine Rumble

Touching the Void is a play based on the book of the true story of climber Joe Simpson and his terrifying climbing accident whilst climbing the mountains in the Andes with his friend Simon Yates. It tells of the life and death struggle and a man’s will to survive even the most terrible of disasters, it tells of a man’s conflict within himself of what to do in a perilous situation where your heavily injured friend is attached to you by a rope, do you cut the rope and hopefully survive or stay attached and die? It has been adapted brilliantly into an emotional, intense drama for the stage and well directed by Tom Morris.

The play is truly amazing and makes you question what you would do in the same situation. Joe and his friend Simon were climbing in the Andes in 1985 when Joe fell and badly injured his leg, he then fell into a crevasse and his friend Richard thinking he had probably died had to make the terrible decision to cut the rope and leave his friend behind. The play focuses on Joe and his mental battle to survive, his battle against dying alone, his battle against dragging his broken body through snow, ice, mountains and hills all alone. Josh Williams who plays Joe Simpson is an amazing young actor who portrayed him in all ways from the fun and laughing Joe in a pub in Scotland with his friends, to him meeting fellow climber Simon and planning their trek up a hill in the Andes, to them meeting Richard Hawking, a nerdy gap year backpacker who looked after their base camp for them. To the exhilaration of climbing the mountains, to that terrible accident and the deathly realisation that his friend had cut the rope and left him, to his steely determination not to die alone. This actors performance had me sat on the edge of my seat, he acted with such passion and brought the character to life in so many ways. Watching him go through all of the raw emotions and mental anguish along with the physicality of the role of climbing the mountain was amazing. His mental decline as his body fought to survive was superbly portrayed. Edward Hayter as Simon Yates was brilliant in his enthusiasm for the climb and then when disaster struck, the mental battle he went through could be felt by the audience. Patrick McNamee who played Richard Hawking, provided much light relief and humour in the darkest of situations. He also sang beautifully. And Fiona Hampton played Simon’s sister, Sarah brilliantly. She portrayed every emotion from anguish to determination and encouragement and her scenes were amazing to watch.

All four members of the cast were brilliant, not only did they act, but they also moved the props on the stage themselves, sometimes wearing large orange mountain climbing coats when they were the stage hands. The stage itself and the props were very simple, using chairs and tables to cleverly represent mountains and crevasses and rocks. The outside of the stage included a jukebox and tables and chairs to represent the Clachaig Inn where the story first takes place. The mountain they climb is two different steel structures like rigging covered in white paper, one is on the ground and the latter one is suspended from the air. As Joe and Simon climb the mountain using their pickaxes, white paper falls to the stage to represent the snow, it is very cleverly done and along with the lighting and the sound effects, when watching you feel that you’re actually on the mountain with them. The physicality of the role is amazing and the way they use the mountain and climb all over it leaves the actors sweating, they must have to be very fit for this role.

I was unsure how they could show this story up on a stage, but this has been very cleverly done, the first part tells the story of them all meeting and the climb until disaster. The interval leaves you with a cliff-hanger (pardon the pun) quite literally and those of us who, like me did not know the Joe Simpson story before watching the play we were left questioning where will the second half take us? It takes you away from everything you previously believed and was portrayed to you. It takes you through Joe’s struggle for survival and the emotions are real, as you watch it you feel every pain, every moment of anguish, you become invested in his battle and will him on to survive, every setback you feel, every moment of despair you feel, it takes you through the emotional ringer. Josh Williams’ acting makes you feel all of this and more.

All four actors are incredible, all putting in powerful performances, to which I say ‘Bravo’. I would love to go and watch the play again as they were parts that I feel I would understand more if I watched it more than once. I would highly recommend this play and give it a 5/5 rating.

The play was held in the Royal Theatre in Northampton, which is smaller and I think made it feel much more intimate, I think if it had been staged on a larger stage or in a larger theatre, it would not have had the same impact. Being in a smaller theatre gave the audience a feeling of being there with them, like you were a part of it.

Please go to see this amazing play. You won’t regret it. I’m off to the bookshop to buy the book.

Rating: 5/5

Tickets cost from £11 (booking fees may apply).

Touching the Void is at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton from 9-20 October 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk or call the box office on 01604 624811.

Royal & Derngate, Guildhall Road, Northampton, NN1 1DP | 01604 624811

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