Touching the Void | Rehearsal Diary - Week 1

6 Aug 2018

Following the first week of Touching the Void rehearsals, Assistant Director Evan Lordan spills the beans on the company's inaugural week in Bristol and their exciting journey ahead...

Joe Simpson's best-selling 1988 memoir Touching the Void, international bestseller and BAFTA-winning film sensation, charts his struggle for survival on the perilous Siula Grande mountain in the Peruvian Andes aged just 25.

The heart of the story is Joe Simpson's mental battle as he teeters on the very brink of death and despair in a crevasse from which he can't possibly climb to safety. Also unforgettable in the story is the appalling dilemma of Simon Yates, perched on an unstable snow-cliff, battered by freezing winds and desperate to rescue the injured Simpson, who hangs from a rope below him.

I quote the promotional material, because on Day One of rehearsals my main question is this; how the bloody hell are we supposed to stage that?!

I sit among the creative team of 20 or so people and listen keenly to the first read-though of David Greig's adaptation, but by the end the question still remained; how on earth are we going to pull this off?

I spend lunch trying to wrap my head around the possibilities, or in this case the impossibilities of staging this show, when designer Ti Green presents the team her set design; everything is going to be okay. This was the missing piece of the puzzle.I now see that it is possible to bring an audience on a journey to the Peruvian Andes. Even the 50:1 scaled down version of the set is spectacular.

The story is notorious, but the play itself is brand spanking new and David has introduced some fascinating elements to this well-known story, having developed the show with Tom Morris. This is not the final draft however. David is still very much tinkering with it, especially now that he has actors to bounce ideas off. Tom and David have conspired to create a very open and collaborative atmosphere and the actors have stepped forward to put their stamp on this story.

I have been in many rehearsal rooms developing new work and it should not be taken for granted how difficult a process this can be. This is the first time Tom and David have worked together and they are still working each other out, but they have gotten off to a great start because they speak the same language; tension, conflict, structure. After the work done this week, you guys are going to see quite a different show to the one that arrived on paper last Monday morning.

On Thursday David flew home to Edinburgh and the actors and a few of the creative went to climb a crag at Avon Gorge. It was a bit more vertical than I was expecting if I'm honest. We were all harnessed up and supervised by a professional, but when you find yourself 20 meters up the side of a gorge that suddenly feels like far too little protection.

In more ways than one, the climbing exercise reminded me of being a child. Having adventures, doing things purely to keep from looking like a sissy in front of friends, getting stuck up high and hoping that someone can help to get you back down. I find the actual climbing part pretty difficult to remember. You are so preoccupied with finding a hold for your hand and finding a good spot to put your foot and basically just not falling off, that you don't really have much head-space for taking mental pictures or philosophising about the experience. You look in front and around yourself to areas you can reach or that you hope you can reach and very little beyond that. You create small achievable tasks and immediately set about doing them in order to get yourself up the side of the rock. At least, that's what I did. And so at no point during the climb did I look down, until I had pretty much gotten to the top. My perspective on this earth went from ground level/normal/safe to 20 meters above it/abnormal/bonkers in what seemed like the blink of an eye and it caught me totally by surprise. My legs began to tremble, just a little, but it was definitely there. People below gave me the thumbs up and I returned the gesture, smiling through gritted teeth, but within my head I was busy having very stern words with my rattling legs. I was telling them in no uncertain terms that this was neither the time nor the place for shaking. You can shake all day and all night while on ground level, but up here it is completely unacceptable. It would not be decent or proper to recount many of the words I used (only in my head) to regain authority over my limbs that afternoon, but at least I can say that it worked.

That day I experienced the tiniest taste of what compels people like Joe Simpson and Simon Yates to climb and that is the feeling we will try to generate for you with Touching the Void. It is going to be fun and exhilarating, but it may not always be easy. Just like all good adventures.

Evan Lordan is a Leverhulme Arts Scholar and recipient of a JMK regional bursary funded by the Leverhulme Trust Arts Scholarships Fund.

This September, our radical Year of Change continues with the world-premiere stage adaptation of Touching The Void. For more information and to book tickets, click here.