Kursk is an excellent example of immersion theatre. Its success is built not on fine writing and acting (which it certainly has) but on how the production completely envelops its audience.
The title refers to the name of a Russian submarine that famously sank in 2000. Political rumblings and fears of discovered military secrets led the Russian government to ignore the offers of help that came from other countries. Whether or not the sailors died within moments of the sinking or after a period of time is still unknown, but all lives were lost.
The play does not chronicle the events of the doomed voyage but instead focuses on the lives of five men serving on a British submarine tasked with the stealth observation of Russian war games. In the course of 90 minutes the audience sees how the men live in cramped quarters and rely on each other for basic survival.
Writer Bryony Lavery has written a very solid script. All five characters are richly drawn and speak dialogue that is convincing, and the story is well-structured with complicated plot twists and some genuine turns of humour. And all five actors are more than up to the task of bringing Lavery’s words to full life, creating characters that feel three-dimensional and real.
But if anyone is going to remember this, it is going to be for its production values, and for that the directors and creative team need to be fully commended. Co-directors Mark Espiner and Dan Jones have created an excellent web of theatrics, keeping the dramatic action taut while hitting the audience with an onslaught of technical marvels. Designer Jon Bausor’s set makes for a convincing sub that much of the audience can stand in, and Hansjorg Schmidt’s lighting design and Dan Jones’ sound effects make the voyage, and the feelings of claustrophobia, almost real.
Kursk might not have the most groundbreaking story, but ‘groundbreaking’ does seem like a fair word to use in describing the production as a whole. It feels like theatre, art installation and journalism rolled into one, and it is directed in a way that evokes feelings that conventional performance would find almost impossible.
Run at the Tramway ended, but still touring.
Written for The Skinny.