“Welcome back to live theatre!” director Tom Morris proclaimed on Wednesday night as the audience for Touching the Void at the Bristol Old Vic erupted in applause. But it wasn’t just the lucky people in the theatre who were tuning in, viewers from all over the world were watching via a live stream.
This is theatre 2021 style and we settled down on our sofa in front of our projector and big screen for a press night with a difference.
If we’re honest, Bristol Old Vic could have staged anything as we have been craving live performances so much but the show chosen to welcome back audiences after months away is Touching The Void. The smash-hit was first at the theatre in 2018 before transferring to London’s West End.
The tale of human endeavour and battling adversity is the perfect choice for the big reopening. It tells the true story of climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates’ perilous descent of Siula Grande and their battle for survival. Battered by winds on an unstable mountain, Simon struggles to rescue his injured friend and Joe stares death in the face while stranded in a crevasse that seems impossible to escape from.
A production has to go a long way to use a live stream to successfully replicate the thrill of being live in a theatre but this show absolutely nails it. The camera work and staging is outstanding. The action jumps out of the screen as the actors climb Siula Grande ingeniously constructed on stage using a wire frame and paper. Upturned chairs illustrate the mountainous surroundings and while Richard, Joe and Simon’s climbing friend, tells Joe’s sister Sarah the story of what happens, he uses peanuts as people to illustrate the huge scale of the Peruvian Andres. Multiple camera angles are also used and you get to see the action from above and below. Your sofa really is the best seat in the house. We’ve seen it before so knew what happens but it was still so nail biting!
The cast is phenomenal. Josh Williams and Angus Yellowlees are breathtaking as Joe and Simon, while Fiona Hampton as Sarah and Patrick McNamee as Richard are equally good.
You really mustn’t miss this one. Prepare yourself for one of the best theatre experiences of your life, from home! It’s real edge of the seat/sofa/armchair/bean bag stuff.
The impact of the pandemic on theatre has been awful but one positive is the innovation adopted to ensure us culture lovers still get our fix. We can so see this kind of hybrid in-person/online productions continuing once the crisis is finally over. Theatres will still sell out for physical shows but virtual streams mean the global audience has no limits. Monitoring Twitter while watching Touching the Void, we saw tweets from people tuning in from Australia, Canada and the US. We really felt like we were part of something very special. Welcome to the future.
Watch a live stream of Touching the Void on 28 and 29 May and access the show on demand from 2 – 8 June.