Review Roundup: TOUCHING THE VOID in the West End
Following critically acclaimed runs at the Bristol Old Vic, Royal & Derngate, Northampton, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, Hong Kong Festival and on Tour in the UK Tom Morris' production of Touching the Void opened in the West End last night at the Duke of York's Theatre.
This production marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of Joe Simpson's best-selling memoir, charting his extraordinary struggle for survival on the perilous Siula Grande mountain in the Peruvian Andes. Alongside this struggle, is the appalling dilemma of his climbing partner Simon Yates, perched on an unstable snow-cliff, clinging onto the rope tying him to the severely injured Joe. Unable to recover Joe from the void, Simon is faced with the agonizing decision to cut the rope that binds them.
Let's see what the critics are saying...
Aleks Sierz, The Arts Desk: If the mountain itself is a character, and the metaphor of the void as implacable nature is thought-provoking, the brunt of the show is carried by the piece's four actors. Josh Williams convincingly plays Joe the determined, while Angus Yellowlees gives Simon a good sense of survival guilt. The moral choice of sacrificing your comrade in order to live comes across strongly. As Richard and Sarah, Patrick McNamee and Fiona Hampton are good value. As an affirmation of the human spirit, Touching the Void is great, but it doesn't quite scale the summit.
Marianka Swain, BroadwayWorld: Inevitably, the most thrilling section is when Simpson is first injured, through to the moment when Yates realises he has to cut the rope connecting them. Jon Nicholls' soundscape is indelible - I can still hear the screech of axe on unforgiving ice, and the horrific crunching of bone. It's queasily good, edge-of-your-seat theatre.
Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard: It's not just a physical challenge that's dramatised, but a moral one too. The injured Simpson fell into the crevasse after Simon Yates had already heroically lowered him 2,500 feet on a rope. Unable to see or hear his friend and liable to fall himself, Yates cut the rope. Hopefully none of us will ever make such a decision. But Greig, Morris and the cast enable us to understand the people who might.
Michael Billington, The Guardian: On stage, Simpson's struggle is done very simply, with the actor inching his way precariously forward and his sister - this is Greig's invention - becoming a mental and physical goad. The ultimate lesson of this production is that you can do anything in the theatre as long as you rely on the audience's willing imagination.
Patrick Marmion, The Daily Mail: If it's characters you want, Patrick McNamee is your man as the imaginary nerdy novelist who looked after Joe and Simon's base camp. Otherwise, this is basically one long theatrical cliffhanger that could probably do without the interval which serves only to break the tension by releasing you into a snug bar, to drink cold beer. Mind you, that is every inch as close as I want to get to this kind of extreme experience. It's good to know there are people out there, doing it for you.
Mark Shenton, London Theatre: Early on, Joe's sister Sarah (Fiona Hampton) who provides a kind of narration to the proceedings, asks the inevitable question: Why climb? That question is one that can also can be asked about the theatre itself: why do we do it? This play provides its own answer: to see shows like this that asks larger questions, too, about what drives us as human beings. It's also a penetrating portrayal of the impulse of human survival, against the odds: a thrilling, salutary reminder of our shared humanity and ability to overcome hardships, however extreme.
Mary Beer, London Theatre 1: This play has potential but it seems to have veered off-course. I wonder if it had emerged from a workshop and had to make do in a studio space somewhere, if it would have found its truth more readily? Was its core dramatic impetus lost due to the distractions of grandeur and big budget expectations? There are moments of rhythmic staging (including exposition about using an ice axe) that almost invite a musical in their visceral appeal and magnetism. Indeed, there is much delightful fodder in this production but it does not coalesce.
Natasha Tripney, The Stage: Josh Williams is solid and likeable as Joe, which is impressive given that he spends much of the production crawling and hobbling, howling and whimpering, around the stage. Fiona Hampton does most of the emotional heavy lifting, as his sister, and Patrick McNamee provides some necessary levity as the guitar-playing backpacker Richard, who tags along with Simon and Joe. If it's perhaps a little easy to make a woman both the recipient of exposition and an embodiment of Joe's survival instinct, it's also effective because Greig's such a skilled writer and Hampton an engaging performer.
Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut London: What elevates 'Touching the Void' from 'well-judged' to 'spine-tingling' is Morris's exemplary staging, in cahoots with a crack creative team headed by designer Ti Green and movement director Sasha Milavic Davies.