Kursk

Bryony Lavery
Sound and Fury & Young Vic
Bristol Old Vic and touring
(2010)

Production photo

The remarkable Sound & Fury are currently touring a revival of last year's extraordinary Kursk, the promenade production in which the audience find themselves in the unearthly world of a British Trafalgar Class nuclear submarine.

The action focuses on the events surrounding the Russian Kursk submarine disaster of 2000 in which 118 crewmen perished. Here, a British crew find themselves nestled beneath the Kursk gathering intelligence on a top secret espionage mission, well out of NATO waters. This puts them in the vicinity just moments before an explosion that sends the state-of-the-art Russian submarine to the seabed and sets up an agonising moral conundrum for the British Commander, whose crew want him to rescue the survivors but whose orders are that he should not intervene under any circumstances.

Bryony Lavery's script is characteristically well-crafted. She layers up her characters with humour and warmth, setting very human dilemmas, which are entirely heart-breaking in their delivery.

Sound and fury specialise in surround-sound, immersive theatre and excel here in this multi-sensory experience. Jon Bausor's intricately detailed design and Dan Jones' sound-score feel unnervingly authentic and there is more than one moment in which you find yourself standing in a silent black-out.

This sensory bombardment makes the pitch-perfect performances from this cast of five all the more engaging. You are, in any case, standing cheek-by-jowl with the actors, who squeeze between audience members to cross the set through the narrow walk-ways of the submarine. But the tangible claustrophobia makes the action all the more compelling and the performances all the more impressive.

There have been one or two cast changes since the 2009 production. Keir Charles steps up to the role of Casanova Ken with great gusto and Jonah Russell is radio operator Donnie Mac, who shares the burden of the Commander's top-secret radio messages and is tormented by the moral dilemmas they engender.

Sound & Fury's own Tom Espiner revives his role as the deeply affecting New Dad Mike; Laurence Mitchell returns as the troubled and isolated Commander, as does former sub-mariner, Ian Ashpitel, as coxswain Donnie Black. Together they are an extraordinary ensemble, creating a very real sense of the camaraderie and the inevitable tensions that form between the crew.

In the end it is the combined mastery of the script, the design, the direction and the performances which makes this production such an extraordinary experience. It is certainly one which stays with you long after you leave the theatre.

At Bristol Old Vic until 20th March and touring to the Young Vic, Junction Cambridge, Northern Stage Newcastle, Warwick Arts Centre, Liverpool Everyman and Tramway Glasgow.

Simon Sladen reviewed this production in the Young Vic Maria Studio.

Reviewer: Allison Vale