Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
A jukebox isn’t the most obvious thing to be perched onstage throughout this epic staging of Joe Simpson’s iconic memoir of what happened when he and climbing partners Simon Yates and Richard Hawking set off on an mountaineering expedition in the Peruvian Andes. It is the music that beams out from it, however, that provides a lifeline in David Greig’s adaptation, brought to life by Tom Morris’s equally expansive production.
The first half sees Simpson’s former climbing comrades seemingly gather for his wake with his sister Sarah. Out of this Simon and Richard guide both Sarah and the audience through a crash course in the highs and lows of climbing and the drive that causes some to take the liberating physical leap into the void that gave Simpson his book’s title. This is done by way of an ingenious use of tables, chairs and even a solitary peanut.
The sheer physical élan of the four actors onstage as they clamber around designer Ti Green’s futuristic looking construction seemingly suspended in mid-air is thrilling enough. It is the second half, however, which jumps down the rabbit-hole of Simpson’s broken and exhausted psyche as he attempts to make it back from the brink of all but certain death towards unlikely survival as it gets to the solitary delirium of his plight.
Greig and Morris’s decision to take such a bold non-literal approach makes for exhilarating theatre, and Sarah’s presence is vital here. As played with ferocious vigour by Fiona Hampton, it is she who drives the narrative. This doesn’t take anything away from equally heroic performances by Edward Hayter as Simon, Patrick McNamee as Richard and especially Josh Williams as Joe in this co-production between the Lyceum, Bristol Old Vic. Royal and Derngate Northampton and Fuel. Pulsed by Jon Nicholls’ sound design and given ballast by Sasha Milavic Davies’ movement direction, the result is an inspirational quest that exposes the value of life itself.
The Herald, January 28th 2019