Tag Archives: Josh Williams

Touching the Void

Touching the Void

★★★★

Duke of York’s Theatre

Touching the Void

Touching the Void

Duke of York’s Theatre

Reviewed – 15th November 2019

★★★★

 

“does not lack suspense, or imaginative touches in the staging”

 

Adapting Joe Simpson’s epic tale of survival on the Peruvian Siula Grande mountain for the theatre is no easy task. But then playwright David Greig, like mountaineer Simpson, is not the kind of man to avoid a challenge just because it’s difficult, or has never been done before. Nevertheless, theatres, like mountains, are well known for the unexpected ways in which they can put obstacles in the paths of even the most gifted. This revival of Greig’s play at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London just misses a chance at greatness.

Greig was invited to produce a play script of Touching the Void after director Tom Morris, inspired by Simpson’s book, and the BAFTA winning film of the same title, wanted to adapt it for the stage. Sensibly opting against a naturalistic interpretation, Greig wrote instead a “mythic reading of a real event”. He changes the sequence of events—beginning instead with an imagined wake for Joe after he has been left for dead on the mountain. Greig also brings on board a new character, Sarah, Joe’s sister, who in reality had died some years before Joe and climbing partner Simon Yates make their climb (Greig obtained Simpson’s permission to write in Sarah). These changes serve as powerful attention getters; Sarah herself becomes an important part of Joe’s fight for survival in the second half of the show. And then there is the non-human force, the Void, which could be interpreted as the mythic antagonist against which Joe and Simon must battle to win the mountain, and live to tell the tale.

Touching the Void does not lack suspense, or imaginative touches in the staging. Watching actors Josh Williams (Joe) and Angus Yellowlees (Simon) climb all over Ti Green’s ingenious set is exciting, though the climbing accolades should probably go to Fiona Hampton (Sarah) when she takes an impromptu climbing lesson by scrambling up a “mountain face” composed entirely of pub tables and chairs haphazardly attached to the wall downstage right. It’s moments like these that emphasise the theatricality of director Tom Morris’ production, but they can only do so much in holding the audience’s attention throughout the entire play.

The choice of venue for this revival reveals the weaknesses in the script. Even with the actual proscenium arch removed, the Duke of York’s is still a problematic space for a play that cries out to be performed, at the very least, on a more flexible stage. Script wise, it’s clever of Greig to use the character of Sarah to propel the drama forward (she is the one that insists her brother cannot be dead, and goes in search of him) but the play still devolves into a belaboured enactment of Joe’s painful struggle back to base camp in the second, with Sarah becoming a product of his fevered imaginings as he hovers between life and death. From a seat in the stalls at the Duke of York’s, it is hard to see Joe in the second half, because he spends so much time flat on the stage floor. Greig’s dramatisation of the Void, a force that cannot be seen even though we see its effects on the characters, is a brilliant touch, but the ethereal nature of its presence makes it an unreliable source for narrative clarification. And finally, it is impossible to avoid the distancing effect that a picture frame stage places upon audiences watching actors come to grips simultaneously with intimate scenes set against vast panoramas.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Michael Wharley

 


Touching the Void

Duke of York’s Theatre until 29th February

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Rosmersholm | ★★★★ | May 2019
The Son | ★★★★★ | September 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You – 5 Stars

Cocaine

If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You

The Vaults

Reviewed – 25th February 2018

★★★★★

“I’ve rarely come across seventy minutes of theatre which is as simultaneously heart-warming and heart-wrenching”

 

John O’Donovan’s award winning ‘If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You’ is a masterpiece. On a rooftop in rural West Ireland, the lovable rogue Mikey (Andy Mahon) and the charismatic romantic Casey (Josh Williams) hide from the police. Their crimes are late night robberies on a nearby petrol station and then on Casey’s home, but O’Donovan’s extraordinary script forces you to instantly forgive them.

As the play progresses, it becomes apparent that it is not just the police that have surrounded and trapped the young men. Crazy ex-boyfriends, abusive step fathers and the drain of the recession have prevented them from being able to fully commit to each other for a long time. With no option but to stay where they are, Mahon and Williams treat the audience to a tennis match of witty, reminiscent dialogue as Casey and Mikey take us through their childhood wins and losses. Whether hearing about Mikey’s growing, but perhaps unwarranted reputation as a thug or Casey being plucked from his old life and whisked off to Ireland with his spiteful, violent step father, your heart cannot help but break for the struggles these two have faced.

Proudly working their way through their stolen goods (highlights include whisky, cocaine and two different sorts of M&Ms), the couple indulge in each other’s company in what seems to be a rare moment of truthful isolation between them. Indeed, even when the police cars leave the scene the boys stay put. This begs the question: is the rooftop a prison cell or a sanctuary? With one desperately clinging to the inside of the closet and the other beaming at the mere thought of showing off his new partner, the boys are proof that opposites attract. One thing they have in common, however, is their need to feel wanted. As they physically cling to the chimney, they emotionally cling to each other; and it is this that forces you to will them lifelong happiness.

Mahon and Williams deliver O’Donovan’s triumph with dignity, dexterity and determination. Georgia de Grey’s set wouldn’t be out of place in a West End theatre and Thomas Martin’s direction is ingeniously detailed. I’ve rarely come across seventy minutes of theatre which is as simultaneously heart-warming and heart-wrenching and I urge you to see it. Whether the two are trapped on the roof or hiding in their safe place, it’s clear that there is much more than just honour between these two thieves – there is love.

 

Reviewed by Sydney Austin

Photography by Keith Dixon

 

Cocaine

If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You

Vaults Theatre

 

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com