Review – Kursk, Young Vic

Wednesday 24 June 2009

dd-jun4-kurskIt seemed particularly perverse of Andrew to come hot foot (or, rather, frozen foot but that’s enough of Andrew’s unsavoury medical details) from his long-suffering podiatrist to the Young Vic last night

The Whingers aren’t normally keen on promenade performances, famously preferring the comfort and reliability of numbered seats and a resting place for their luxuriant derrières.

But Sound&Fury‘s Kursk in collaboration with Bryony “More Light” Lavery had come highly recommended and so go they had to even though (or especially though from Phil’s viewpoint) it meant Andrew was going to have to suffer for his art. For the interventions of the chiropodist had come on the heels of a traumatic gardening mishap only days before in which Andrew’s attempts to hang some gazebo lights ended in tragedy and although he didn’t mention it, Phil did feel that Andrew’s cuts and bruises were probably some divine retribution for someone without a gazebo above their station.

Anyway, the Young Vic website warned:

Kursk is a promenade production. This means you are free to walk around within the space and that there are no conventional seats as in our other spaces. There are benches which you are welcome to lean on and should you be unable to stand for the duration of the show a chair can be provided.

Phil was keen to ask for a chair for Andrew or at least smuggle a collapsible Zimmer frame into the auditorium; the last thing Phil would ever want would be for Andrew to suffer, he claimed. But Andrew was stoical and insisted on wearing his resigned look of martyrdom like a badge of honour and wearily insisting, “No, no. I’ll be fine” while leaning rather too heavily on poor Simone.

So Andrew limped round the gantry and even clambered down the metal staircase confines of Kursk‘s extraordinary Trafalgar class submarine environment for his voyage to the bottom of the sea.

The stars of the show are the set (Jon Bausor), lighting (Hansjörg Schmidt) and especially the sounds (Sound& Fury’s Dan Jones and Tom Espiner) of the sub environment which has been recreated in the Maria studio (which we’ve never been to before). The crepuscular gloom, with occasional total blackouts (and not because Andrew had toppled over), lighting effects and brilliant and sometimes jolting sound effects create the feeling that you really are living in a claustrophobic space with a submarine crew 200 metres below the Barents Sea.

The show charts tensions within the five man British crew in the minutiae of their daily activities as they track the Russian nuclear cruise missile submarine Kursk before witnessing its demise and the eventual tragic fate which left all of its 118 crew dead.

The audience is free to move around the set but most people stayed put apart from a few very annoying ones who always had to stand as close to the action as possible –  probably the same idiots who insist on standing up against the baggage retrieval carousel at airports and block the view of less inconsiderate passengers.

In the sub’s dining area Phil noted a set of games to fill the boredom of months under the sea. Who knew that submarines are so well-stabilised that it was possible to play KerPlunk?

Andrew, meanwhile, was contemplating the horrible prospect of having to live (never mind die) in a submarine, especially if Phil were there too what with his insistence on a daily dose of broccoli (thank you, “Doctor” Gillian McKeith).

90 minutes is quite a long time to stand around, especially when about a third of that time is spent watching and listening to people driving a submarine so it’s to everyone’s credit that the production didn’t outstay its welcome. Far from it. Never has the operation of a vehicle on stage been so compelling.

Play-wise Andrew was rather disappointed that when it finally came the anticipated Moral Maze moment (should they initiate a rescue of the trapped Kursk submariners and betray the fact that they have been spying or not?) was under-explored. He was also a bit perplexed by the meaning of the reverse deus ex machina ending.

But for sheer atmosphere and immersion Kursk is in a league of its own of not 20,000 leagues of its own (ha ha).

5 Responses to “Review – Kursk, Young Vic”

  1. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    Just before the Young Vic reopened, when David Lan was talking to me about what-all had been done, he said that they could even open up a wall between the main space and the workshop and stage a show in the latter, “although I don’t know what sort of show would work in there, unless we did one set on a submarine.” So I was rather disappointed that “Kursk” was in the Maria. They should have taken the challenge… In terms of swapsies it would also, frankly, have helped “Been So Long” to be staged in smaller dimensions than the main stage, on which it seems adrift.

  2. Caroline Says:

    I found “Kursk” riveting and it reminded me of “Black Watch”, albeit set over a shorter timespan. The lack of seating caught me out, though, as my ticket said “unreserved seating” as usual – not “unseated”! Staff were great about providing chairs but you do miss out on some of the action if you are stationary.


  3. I definitely enjoyed Kursk, not to mention thst it was also my first time at the Young Vic, and my first promenade, and I have the Whingers (and Oliver) to thank for the experience.

    See you soon I hope! x

  4. Chris Says:

    Sounds marvellous. Won’t get to see it unfortunately. Love a bit of play promming, you’re so caught up with what’s going on. Good old Young Vic (if that’s not a tautology).


  5. […] shows to see. Sometimes it was a show I’d unimaginably rejected; sometimes it’s a show I never heard of; almost always it was a show that was on the verge of becoming unattainable. It’s even better […]


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