To the Young Vic to see the impressive Kursk - a collaboration between site specific company Sound and Fury and the writer Bryony Lavery, based on the tragic events in the Summer of 2000 when a state of the art Russian submarine exploded and took all 118 crew members down with her.
In every sense this was 'immersion' theatre with the tiny Maria studio transformed with immaculate accuracy into a British submarine, shared by cast and audience, patrolling the Baring Sea and monitoring the manoeuvres of the Russians, in the hours leading up to the explosion. The attention to detail and claustrophobia of life as a sub mariner is brilliantly captured and from the first moment we enter the space we're made aware of the tidiness and care that sharing such intimate surroundings, during a twelve week dive, requires. The spotless repetition of routine is the only way to ensure sanity hundreds of metres below the ice.
Bryony's script explores the fragile relationships that this world creates. A coxswain studies Haiku poetry for a correspondence course, creating his own perfect bubbles, in a neat metaphor for the purpose of precision.
Meanwhile, action is further deferred, by the stoic captain who receives news via radio that the newly born child of one of his crew has died in a cot death. Weeks away from surfacing and having no way of predicting how the sailor will respond, he delays telling him, wrestling instead for what to say and when to say it. This domestic episode counterpoints a second dilemma as the crew are tracking Kursk and so understand that she has gone down. There is still some hope for life if the alarm is raised before the oxygen runs out, but this would create an international incident and so with frustration and anger they sail on. So nothing happens and we, sharing the space and the secrets, are left painfully aware of our lack of influence. Suspended as we are, frightened and miles from home.
Promenade performance is certainly back with avengence, perhaps riding triumphantly on the back of Punchdrunk's success but Kursk, like the Iraq War inspired Stovepipe earlier in the summer, shows that the form can escape decadence and work within the conventions of a scripted narrative to question the world which we are so complicit with.