Kursk (3 stars)

This article is from 2016


An otherwise interesting production is let down by the weaknesses in Bryony Lavery's script

In some ways it's surprising there aren't more plays set in submarines. Their inherent sneakiness nurtures a creeping uncanny discomfort; they skulk around murky underworlds pretending they aren't there, monitoring other there-but-not-officially-there submarines. This confident and entertaining production by Airlock Theatre is inspired by the harrowing Kursk submarine disaster of 2000 in which 121 souls perished, but unfortunately there are some critical problems with Bryony Lavery's script.

The simple metal-frame set quickly conveys the claustrophobia and isolation felt by each of the six-strong crew as they embark on a new mission: bunkbeds are time-shared, showers are communal, and it is only the captain who manages to steal some shreds of solitude by escaping to her office to hunch over a chess board as she psyches herself up for each and every aspect of the mission. Her lack of any demonstrable leadership skills and her propensity to panic and wildly over-react to pretty much everything seems to go unnoticed by those in her command. Perhaps it is because they in turn are consumed by thinking about the lives that forge ahead without them back on terra firma; children grow up, fleeting love affairs fade into the past, and new people become depended upon to fix odd jobs around the house.

When a nearby Russian submarine suffers a catastrophic explosion, the crew and their handwringing captain are forced to decide whether or not to break cover and search for survivors. These moments are heart-stoppingly tense. Watching a character pressing her headset to her ears, desperately listening for the thuds and bangs of the dying Kursk crew, is far more interesting and substantial than the earlier excessive displays of military brand camaraderie and the dull control-room jargon-athons. Frustratingly, Lavery doesn't trust that this central plot point could be emotive or powerful enough, and so she unnecessarily weaves in another thread of dramatic tension with the death of a crew member's child. Though there are several robust performances in this otherwise entertaining and likeable production, they are overshadowed by the script's central flaws.

Bedlam Theatre, run ended.


  • 3 stars

Airlock Theatre 'Captain, contact's engine noise ceased… she's on her way down.' The year 2000. A Russian submarine, the Kursk, explodes in the Barents Sea. Nearby, a British vessel on a secret military mission witnesses its final minutes. The crew must decide whether to blow their cover and go to the survivors’ aid or…