In June 1953, New Zealander, Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay stood on top of Mount Everest and gazed at the world below. It was an awesome moment achieved after weeks of battling the elements, and here it is light-heartedly portrayed by Spike Theatre Company.
The cast occasionally go over the top, not just literally, but in their humour. Yes, they are often genuinely funny but, occasionally, this overshadows the greatness of the achievement. From the minute the audience arrive though, they are involved immediately, as they are accosted in the space outside the theatre. For, here is a base camp where you are handed pieces of equipment and even asked to play supporting roles.
When the play begins, you will be amazed at the effect a few ladders, sheets and ropes have. Whether these folk are climbing a mountain or just a few ladders, the task is not easy and requires amazing balancing skills. They must be tough and skilful to get the right effect. At the same time, we are treated to the view of a far off camp created with little tents, puppets and lights.
If there is one word to describe the cast, it is versatile! Their acting skills are second to none, their climbing even better and their audience interaction better still. You may remember, the two who triumphed for real spoke different languages; Tenzing Norgay spoke Nepalese whilst Hillary was a New Zealander.
We are spared foreign accents here though, as Eugen Salleh who plays the Sherpa has an unmistakable Scouse accent. No wonder Hillary can’t understand him – joke! Jamie Wood’s Hillary with his beard and weather-beaten features is as tough as the mountain. Like the other two he is athletic and strong.
The third actor, Chris Tomlinson, is the British ex-public school expedition leader, John Hunt who didn’t reach the top. This talented performer also takes on several other roles and creates many of the sound effects.
In terms of drama, when the two protagonists achieve their goal, the moment is spoilt by the inability of Tensing to take a photograph which highlights how comedy can arise from the most tense situation.
For me though, some of the humour here does jar with the tone of the piece generally as you never really know what genre is being offered to you.
But, by the end of the play, when viewing extracts of the film, The Conquest of Everest, projected on the backs of the actors, you are reminded of the grit and determination of the real people involved. Therefore, you leave the theatre with pride and a sense of warmth.