Touching the Void at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
When actors audition for a part they are often asked if they have any special skills such as horse riding, stage fighting or singing. 

The skills needed for this production, however, are beyond anything most stage actors have to endure. Cue an ability to withstand heights, and intense physicality under stage lighting while dressed in climbing gear designed to be worn in the coldest of temperatures. 

Climbing a sheer wall up the side of the proscenium arch is just one feat Fiona Hampton has to accomplish night after night, while Josh Williams and Edward Hayter have to manoeuvre a complex construction of metal and paper high above the stage (without a safety net!). Williams also hangs at the end of a rope, again high above the stage, while in his final scene, as Joe, he has to move as if with broken bones, slowly and tortuously towards his death. Such is the quality of his acting that I could feel Joe’s (and probably Williams’) pain. Movement director Sasha Milavic Davies certainly had her work but out, while Chris Davey's lighting and Jon Nicholls' sound add to the authenticy.

Never mind about the story, which is an agonising, heart-rending tale of human survival, my heart was in my mouth seeing just what the actors have to go through to, basically, entertain their audiences. No green screen for them; this is acting for real, so huge congratulations to the cast and to Tom Morris for his direction. This is a collective tour de force where each actor has to rely completely on the other for his or her safety and have complete confidence in Ti Green’s set and the people who built it. 

Touching the Void is, of course, based on the true story of Joe Simpson who, with Simon Yates, set out to reach the summit of Siula Grande in the Andes in 1985. When Simpson broke his leg in a fall Yates tried to get him down the mountain but eventually had to make the decision of cutting the rope. David Greig’s adaption of Simpson’s best-selling book (which was also made into a film) looks at how the experience affected not only Yates but Simpson’s sister Sarah, who can’t understand why climbers want so much to scale mountains just because they are there – until she agrees to experience it for herself. And, of course, it charts just how Simpson fought to stay alive and what was going on in his head during that time. 

Acted out through a series of dream sequences and time lapses, it is riveting stuff from start to finish, punctuated with much needed humour from Patrick McNamee as Richard, a guy on his gap year who meets up with Joe and Simon in a pub and agrees to look after their equipment at base camp. Reminding me of Declan Donnelly with his hint of a Geordie accent and an unassuming nature (and not a little physical likeness), McNamee is full of a disarming charm and innocence, not to mention his brilliant delivery of Richard’s many gaffs!
Photo: Geraint Lewis

Touching the Void at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh until Feb 16
www.lyceum.org.uk 
Box Office: 0131 248 4848 
It then continues touring: 
Feb 21-Mar 2: Hong Kong Arts Festival 
Mar 6-9: Perth Theatre 
Mar 14-16: Eden Court Theatre, Inverness