Kursk

Mon 22nd – Sun 28th August 2016

reviews

Maddy Searle

at 17:33 on 22nd Aug 2016

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‘Kursk’ is a play which has a lot to commend it, but the plodding plot rather lets it down. The story is concerned with the crew of a British submarine in the early 2000s, who are tracking the movements of the Russian Navy. The Kursk of the title is a Russian submarine which has a potentially devastating technical failure, causing the British crew a terrible dilemma. However, this major event comes far too late in the play, having been preceded by long screeds of engineering jargon and repetitive readings of telegrams.

The characterisation is quite accomplished, with distinct personalities emerging from the identically-uniformed characters. The captain’s bluff exterior hides constant worries; Webster’s sexual appetite is frustrated; Black’s manly swearing is tempered with poetry and learning. But the tone of the play is rather uneven, as boisterous larks give way to barked orders. This, of course, is probably a reflection of real military life, but is very disorientating to a civilian viewer. Furthermore, the interludes which look at Black’s poetry course do not add much to the story, serving only to add a small amount of characterisation which could have been achieved by other means.

Although the characters of the crew members are all male, some of the roles are played by female actors. The women are just as competent as the men at portraying male submariners, showing both their strength and their vulnerability. The pranks and japes that the crew-mates get up to are fun to watch, as they listen to Slim Shady and mess about with Russian dolls.

The set has an innovative design: intersecting metal poles outline the rooms in the submarine, and a large control desk adds much to the realism of the piece. The set also includes a bedroom and the captain’s study. In the bedroom, the bunk bed can be dismantled to form a table and bench, allowing the space to be multi-purpose.

Lighting and sound are also used creatively to generate an eerie atmosphere onstage. Muffled Russian-speaking voices echo across the auditorium at crucial moments, and flashing red lights indicate a panicked crisis.

Though ‘Kursk’ is surely a well thought-out and performed piece of theatre, the plot does not do a lot to rouse the audience’s emotions. If the main events of the play had been earlier, and perhaps extended, then the story would have been much more gripping.

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Darcy Rollins

at 18:07 on 23rd Aug 2016

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'Kursk' is a play with a noble premise. In 2000 a Russian submarine exploded nearby a British submarine. The British crew had a moral dilemma of proportions: to obey and ignore or disobey and save. They chose to obey and ignore. So far, so thought-provoking, so promising…

So when I read the programme for this show, my hopes were high. Sadly, these were not met. For a moral dilemma play it is strange that so little time is devoted to it. The moment that triggers it only occurred about 45 minutes in. And as far as time spent agonizing goes, there is more time spent on under the sea banter and camaraderie. Aside from deep breathing, some Russian accents in the dark and military announcements of their deaths, there is no attempt to humanise the crew of Kursk. While we get to know the name of the British crew’s loved one touchingly and amusingly, the Russian victims are given no voice.

There is simply not enough time spent on what should be the crux of the story. The ever-present boisterousness undermines what could be a thought provoking play. ‘Kursk’ is undoubtedly well-written. There are regular moments of rapid fire dialogue that always get the sought-after laughs. It is not that the script fails to amuse, it is more a question of why is it trying to amuse?

That being said, the ensemble performance is certainly enjoyable if unstimulating. The strong connection between the cast is convincing, running throughout the play and never weakening. Buoyant speaking and moving in unison effectively reflects the fun of their friendship. In stark contrast to the plodding plot, the cast never lose their energy.

The set cannot be faulted. With a metal frame as the submarine and a naturally complimentary stage, you are in the darkest depths of the ocean with them. The soundscape is equally effective to this end; mechanical noises ominously building.

'Kursk' is a promising play that falls astoundingly short of the fascinating premise it sets itself. Yet, it is a testament to the ingenuity of the company that they thought of such an idea; I only wished they had lived up to it.

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