In 2000, the normally secretive world of the Russian Submarine fleet found itself the centre of the world’s media attention. Following an explosion in one of its torpedoes, the Russian Submarine Kursk sunk to the bottom of the Barents Sea with the loss of all 118 crew. The chilling fact that many survived the initial explosion and went to their deaths slowly as the air ran out on the sea bed adds to the poignancy of the disaster.
So not exactly an obvious choice for a play but in Sound & Fury’s Kursk, revived at the Young Vic following a sell out run last year (a feat achieved again this year), we get one of the most moving plays of the year.
Writer Bryony Lavery has ingeniously set the piece on a British submarine patrolling in the Barents Sea. That way we get to see the tensions in the cramped confines of a submarine. By the time the British encounter the doomed Kursk the horror facing their Russian counterparts is compounded by the tragedy we know is unfolding on the British Sub.
The other stroke of genius of this production is to turn the Maria studio into an authentic replica of the submarine. The audience is then placed in the heart of the action, with actors literally centimetres away. Within this totally immersive atmosphere sounds and lighting create the cramped confines of a submarine with every rumble and sound adding to the tension – the only thing missing is the smell of a submarine.
The day-to-day routine and the separation from loved ones adds to the stresses of a submariners world and by focussing on one individual tragedy on the British sub reinforces the horror facing his Russian counterparts without having to turn to voyeuristic rubber necking.
Perhaps one of the most chilling scenes sees the audience plunged into total darkness as the fading sound of Russian voices gives way to the sound of water lapping, a truly spine chilling experience.
Kursk is touring to venues across the country following their London sell out and this is one show worth travelling miles for. You will be hard pressed to find a more original or immersive piece of theatre this year.