In August 2000, a Russian nuclear-powered submarine, the K-141 Kursk, sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea following a technical malfunction, causing the deaths of all 118 people on board. Bryony Lavery’s play is a thoughtful and character-rich drama which focuses on the crew of an imagined British submarine sent to monitor the Kursk, watching as the disaster unfolds. This production by Airlock Theatre is atmospheric and beautifully realised.
Strong acting, excellent characterisation and tense atmosphere make Kursk a genuine pleasure to watch.
Lavery’s story cleverly fits in with the real-life events of the submarine disaster. When the explosion happens, the British crew are faced with a moral dilemma: should they intervene to rescue the Kursk’s crew, or should they preserve the secrecy of their mission and leave the Russian submariners to their fate? As the play builds towards these dramatic events, we get an insight into the day-to-day lives of the submarine crew: their personalities, interests and lives back home are all explored with a charming attention to detail. Through scenes which are both compelling and funny, the audience is introduced to the idiosyncrasies of submarine life, its oppressive atmosphere and its staunch camaraderie. The five actors all give strong and nuanced performances, working together with an impressive chemistry that really brings the play to life. Alexandra Wetherall, in particular, provides a strong portrayal of the stern and anxious captain who, isolated from the rest of the crew by her position of authority, struggles under the gruelling responsibilities of leadership.
All the play’s action takes place within an impressive set: a metal scaffolding frame which outlines the shape of the submarine and divides it into different rooms. The cold metal structure heightens the play’s tense and claustrophobic atmosphere while ensuring excellent visibility for the audience.
At times, one of the production’s great charms, its detailed attention to the everyday lives of its characters, gets in the way of the story and makes the play quite slow-moving. The fault here rests with the script, rather than the production company, whose considered performances are generally intriguing to watch. Nonetheless, audience members expecting non-stop action may be disappointed.
A well-rehearsed and well-realised production: strong acting, excellent characterisation and tense atmosphere make Kursk a genuine pleasure to watch.