Review by Stephanie Lee
Already existing as a book and a movie, walking into the theatre without having seen Touching the Void I couldn’t help but wonder why it has been adapted to the stage. After sitting through MTC’s staging of the show, it is clear that the uniquely live nature of theatre actually adds an electric feel to the story that elevates it to new heights.
Taking place in the Andes Mountain range, the play retells Joe and Simon’s attempt at summiting Siula Grande. It is a story with great heights and huge stakes, however, somehow MTC manage to pull it off in spectacular style.
The show flicks between a bar where Joe’s sister Sarah is seeking answers about her brother’s disastrous climbing adventure and the climb itself, telling the story through flashbacks to the mountain. Sarah acts as a physical realisation of Joe’s imagination during his near-death experience, guiding the audience through the events and Joe through his survival.
Although the story itself is gripping and incredibly moving, the set design by Andrew Bailey along with Katie Sfetkidis’ lighting design and Darius Kedros’ sound design truly capture the grandness and terrifying nature of the climb. The set itself consists of a mountain made of metal that the actors literally have to climb up and down during the play. Clipping themselves into it and sometimes also having to clip themselves onto support wires from above, the white metal mountain truly adds the feeling of there being high stakes.
The whole set piece not only rotates to depict both the ascent and treacherous descent, but the lighting also works to realise dramatic moments of the climb within the shape of the set- such as Joe being stuck alone in a glacial crevasse. The gaps in the metal of the set are particularly successful at allowing the lighting design to darken areas of it to create a sense of isolation and the looming void.
The costume design by Kat Chan also helps to realise the climb because the actors not only wear outdoor climber attire but also are fully harnessed due to needing to clip into the set at several points.
While the design is extremely clever and adds an immensity to the performance that cannot be achieved through acting alone, it never outshines the four actors who are all fantastic. In particular, Lucy Durack manages to toe the line between her character Sarah’s more serious moments and her lighter ones brilliantly. Durack’s character acts as the audience’s entry point into the story and she does not disappoint with her delivery of the opening monologue allowing the humour of the play to instantly win the audience over.
Joe Klocek’s portrayal of the easy-going climber Joe is also highly captivating. Joe’s physicalising of his character’s painfully slow and isolated fight for survival is so realistic that I heard the occasional wince as we witnessed him drag himself over the set piece.
Under the direction of Petra Kalive, Touching the Void absolutely comes to life on the stage of the MTC Southbank Theatre. The small, but incredibly engaging cast of four dwarfed by the immensity of the show’s design re-creates Simon and Joe’s attempt at the Siula Grande summit in a very dynamic and captivating way, making you feel like you are right there with them.
This play is definitely not one to miss in this year’s MTC season!
Image Credit: Jeff Busby