Tackling the subject of a human tragedy that was at the forefront of both the political world and the media just nine years ago is not an easy thing to do, but theatre company Sound&Fury and writer Bryony Lavery have highlighted the plight of doomed submarine Kursk from an entirely new perspective, concentrating instead on the experience of a nearby Royal Navy submarine.
The idea of spending months on end submerged deep under water in a claustrophobic vessel, with only your fellow crewmates for company, is a completely alien and altogether terrifying concept to the majority of people, but the Young Vic has created a fascinating glimpse into life on a submarine, breaking down the mysteries surrounding it.
A promenade performance, Kursk allows the audience to, quite literally, follow and examine the lives of this submarine’s crew. We are free to explore designer Jon Bausor’s impressively realistic set which transforms the whole of the Young Vic space into the belly of a submarine. The sound and light technicians work in Royal Navy uniforms behind computers, whilst the crew members move from the control room, complete with sonar machines and periscope, to the tiny kitchen or to their squashed living space, all the while followed by members of the audience, intensifying the claustrophobic atmosphere.
At first a sea of grey metal, on closer viewing the industrial set is spotted with pieces of home: paintings from children thousands of miles away, chocolate hobnobs, and photos of babies, wives and lovers tucked away safely in each man’s top pocket. As the crew members banter with each other, it is clear that their attempts to maintain a sense of reality are crucial to keeping hold of their sanity; so they sing Coldplay and Blondie at the top of their voices, make the most of the cramped bunk bed living space, rally each other through 30-second freezing cold showers and continue to live and breathe for the day their monthly telegrams from their loved ones arrive telling mixed stories of love, anger, desires and football results.
The one aspect of the production that could utterly convince you you had left Waterloo for the dark waters of the North Pole is the constant presence of sounds alien to landlubbers. Mechanical groanings causing the floor to vibrate, changes in pressure that convince you your ears might actually pop, the cracking of ice, the occasional sound of whales and the echoing technical jargon spoken by the captain over a crackling tannoy, combined with the low, flickering strip-lights, create an evocative, vivid experience that brings you to the very centre of the action and their world.
Whilst this play offers an intriguing experience into a world that many of us would never have the opportunity to explore, it also shows the horrors of being trapped and unable to act, whilst an unspeakable tragedy unfolds before your eyes.