Duke of York’s Theatre, London – until 29 February 2020
The true story behind Touching The Void and the endeavours and trials that befell mountaineer Joe Simpson and his climbing partner Simon Yates on the Siula Grande mountain in the Peruvian Andes has been recognised in both Simpson’s 1985 bestseller and Film Four’s acclaimed docu-drama released some 18 years later.
However, in its translation to the stage, the epic arc of humanity underlying this remarkable tale is matched only by the dramatical ineptitude manifest in its ham-staged adaptation now playing in the West End’s proscenium-arched Duke of York’s Theatre.
Perhaps in a modern amphitheatre-style auditorium and with better managed sound, this show might, just might, make for an evening’s entertainment. But for an audience member seated at the end of a mid stalls row, too much of what occurs on stage is simply invisible – even to a reviewer who is six foot tall. Anyone shorter sat in these mid-priced seats (face value £55 to £60) will have paid a lot of money for an equal amount of disappointment.
David Greig has adapted Simpson’s heroic passage to survival by translating the action into the climber’s own hallucination of his wake, at which his sister Sarah becomes a fantastic apparition accompanying him through his ordeal. The could have made for an intriguing conceit, with Fiona Hampton as Sarah putting in a well measured performance as a sibling on the verge of grief. Josh Williams’ Joe however, who for much of the evening is restricted to crawling across the stage as he manages his horrifically shattered leg, loses our sympathy – his acting is just not deep enough to convince us of his profound desperation. Likewise, Angus Yellowlees’ Simon lacks credibility.
There’s some automated steelwork in Ti Green’s set that the two men, carabiner-clipped, clamber over for much of the first half’s climbing action – but the accompanying music suggests that composer Jon Nicholls perhaps saw himself scoring a Hollywood action thriller rather than a taut psychological drama. At times not only were the cast invisible, they were also inaudible too.
If only this play were to have suspended our disbelief as effectively as it sometimes suspends its actors.