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Kursk review at Young Vic London

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The eerie, claustrophobic existence of submariners on board a nuclear vessel deep in the Barents Sea provides the ideal opportunity for theatre company Sound and Fury – experts in creating theatrical soundscapes – to flex their aural muscles.

With the Young Vic’s studio transformed into the dark belly of the boat, the audience is free to mill about amid the crew’s bunk beds, kitchen and control room, every bleep of machinery, groan of the engines and echoey ocean noise plunges us convincingly into this watery world.

Playwright Bryony Lavery neatly contrasts the high-pressured and frequently bizarre nature of the job – as the men patrol the Arctic, trying to avoid detection by their American and Russian counterparts – with the mundane daily routine and blokeish camaraderie that sees them through it.

Yet she squanders the potential of the pressure cooker situation when the crew find themselves witnesses to the sinking of real life Russian submarine Kursk and are faced with the difficult decision of whether to raise the alarm and risk being discovered.

The only major plot point in an otherwise rather rudderless narrative, the dilemma is thrashed out ‘offstage’, in the mind of the boat’s posturing but insecure captain – the crew simply informed that he is “thinking”. Reverting to toilet humour after skimming the surface of such a major tragedy seems almost offensive.

The five-strong cast give some entertaining performances, notably Bryan Dick as a young navigator driven mad with sexual frustration after 12 weeks away from his new girlfriend, and Ian Ashpitel, himself an ex Navy man turned actor, as the coxswain who harbours artistic ambitions.

But the play’s ending feels abrupt in comparison with the detailed initial scene-setting, and the journey fails to live up to the promise of this atmospheric and original production.

Production Information

Young Vic, London, June 3-June 27

Sound and Fury in collaboration with Bryony Lavery
Mark Espiner, Dan Jones
Young Vic, Fuel
Ian Ashpitel, Bryan Dick, Gareth Farr, Laurence Mitchell, Tom Espiner
Running time
1hr 30mins

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