Duke of York’s Theatre, London – until Saturday 29 February 2020
Reviewed by Riley Anderson
Much like Joe (Josh Williams) and Simons (Angus Yellowlees) ascent of the West Face of Siula Grande, this play is epic.
Admittedly, prior to seeing the show, I was sceptical. I couldn’t fathom how a story of this magnitude could be told on stage, but luckily for me my scepticism had well and truly melted away within the first five minutes.
We begin inside the Clachaig Inn, Glen Coe for Joe’s wake. Ti Green’s set is minimal; a juke box, a table, a couple of chairs, that when coupled with Chris Davy’s imposing lighting design, we instantly feel as though we’re at the foot of mountain, having one last drink before reliving Joe and Simon’s Homeric journey. But this is of course Joe’s wake, and it is the words of his frustrated sister Sarah (Fiona Hampton) we hear first, in an aggressive monologue as she struggles to understand Joe’s need to climb.
From the first scene the action begins, with a wonderful movement sequence that utilises every element of the set, up to and including the top of the proscenium arch, as Simon helps Sarah understand the psychology of a climber, and come to terms with her brothers decision to attempt to scale Siula Grande.
The first half of the play is a dynamic, spirited retelling of the ascent. The narrative jumps between Richard (Patrick McNamee) describing the events to Sarah, and Joe and Simon as they climb a huge mountain shaped frame up stage. The storytelling is superb and makes for a pulsating hour or so, I say an hour so, but I have no idea how long I was sat there, the action held the entire auditorium in suspense as sweaty hands gripped the underside of seats in anticipation of Simon severing the rope, the only thing between Joe and certain death.
In contrast, the second half of the play becomes a dreamscape, distilling all of the energy and action of the first half of the play into a study of the mind and body in extremis. But make no mistake, it’s still tantalising theatre, and what David Greig has achieved in this adaptation is remarkable. We are pulled the edge of our seats before being catapulted into the crevasse of our own minds and forced to ask ourselves ‘what would I do?’.
The performances were all excellent, both vocally and physically, but special mention has to go to Patrick McNamee who added a delightful, humorous thread to the piece.