Melbourne Theatre Company: Touching the Void – Theatre Review

The latest production from the Melbourne Theatre Company has traversed its way into the Southbank Theatre with a gripping tale of tragedy and survival with Touching the Void. Based on true events and a book of the same name by Joe Simpson, adapted by David Greig and directed by MTC Associate Director Petra Kalive, this production is one that will have you hanging on the edge of your seat.

This production is relatively small with a cast of four; Lucy Durack as Sarah that has been stricken with grief with the tragic death of her brother Joe, portrayed by Joe Klocek. Joe’s best mate and climbing buddy Simon, Kevin Hofbauer, and ‘gap year tag-a-long’ Karl Richmond as Richard. The set is also minimalist but effective with a lone jukebox, table and chairs to the right of stage and a large metal structure made of a set of bars that have been bent and shaped to mimic the appearance of a mountain peak. At first, it does not look like much, however, I was in awe with how the space was used to tell this incredible tale.

The play opens with a lone figure hanging from the ceiling screaming “SIMON! SIMON!”. The curtains close and we see Sarah, standing alone next to the jukebox welcoming us to the wake of her brother Joe that was lost in a tragic climbing accident. Simon appears shortly after trailed by Richard, and Sarah begins to interrogate Simon about the events that lead to Joe’s death, challenging the idea that Joe had actually perished, “What if he’s not dead? What if he is just hanging there? What if he is still alive?”. It is here that the play switches and we retrace the events that led to Joe’s demise, as Simon and Joe begin their preparations to climb Siula Grande in the South American Andes.

To say that this production had me captivated from the start would be a gross understatement. I am a sucker for stories that are based on true events. I think it is the underlying thought that it is true, and I find myself questioning as the events unfold before me, “Surely not? No way that happened.”, but it most certainly did.

I must give huge props to David Greig for envisioning the book into a stage production and to Petra Kalive for bringing it to life. I was also thoroughly impressed by the design of the set. The twisted metal structure that was created to replicate a mountain range is simple in design yet extremely effective and clever. The cast climb over the structure in full climbing kit. The clanging of the carabiners as they hook into the structure and ropes strung across the metal transported me to The Andes. The structure also rotates a full 360 degrees, providing the audience with a varied perspective as the pair climb to the summit.

The cast of four are equally as fantastic as each other in their respective roles. I have not seen much of Kevin Hofbauer’s work since I was addicted to the 2000s cop drama, Rush. I was captivated by his portrayal of Simon and his acting chops in a stage setting. I hope we get to see him tread the boards more in the future. It was great to see Karl Richmond return to another Melbourne Theatre Company production. I last saw him in the lead as Fingal in The Lifespan of a Fact and was admittedly captivated by his performance in that production. His performance in Touching the Void is equally as fantastic as the whimsical, Richard. His character also narrates a lot of the story, excited and suspenseful, his tone perfectly matches the events that unfold on the mountain.

Another new face to me was Joe Klocek as Joe. Much like Kevin Hofbauer, I had not seen Joe Klocek on stage before. However, with film credits from The Dry and Pirates of the Caribbean, I was sure his performance would be top notch. I am pleased to say the Joe Klocek knocked it out of the park. His portrayal of Joe was so captivating that it had me wanting to cheer him on as he battled to survive. Thankfully, I was able to keep quiet in my seat because Lucy Durack was there to do exactly that. It was so refreshing to see Lucy Durack in a play, as I have only ever seen her in musical productions. Her portrayal of Sarah is one of strong will and determination. Sarah is there by Joe’s side for most of the production as the voice in his head, keeping him alive and screaming at him to keep moving. Lucy Durack pulls off this strong, powerful and loud ‘voice of reason’ just perfectly. Whilst Lucy Durack is known an Australian musical icon, I really hope that we see her in more drama roles and plays, because she was sublime as the foul-mouthed sister, Sarah.

Overall, Touching the Void is simplistic in design but powerful in its execution. All four of the performers have incredible stage presence and fantastic chemistry with each other. The lighting design by Katie Sfetkidis and sound production by Darius Kedros are just as fantastic as the set design. The strong, deep bass sounds combined with near darkness really drew me into the suspense. The production even had a pair of professional climbing consultants in Anna Bolmat and Allen Laverty. Not only does this ensure the safety of the cast, but it also provides them with the training required to pull off an authentic climbing performance.

Touching the Void is an edge of your seat production that will shock and inspire you. I am incredibly thankful that I was able to see this bold, brilliant production during a time when events are seemingly disappearing into the void as quickly as they are announced. So, before COVID can attempt to make this production disappear, head over to the Southbank Theatre and strap yourself in.

Tickets are available from the Melbourne Theatre Company website with performances on through to February 19.
For more information and ticketing, visit: https://www.mtc.com.au

Photography by Jeff Busby.

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