‘The Kursk’ was plunging.
As part of their Short and Sharp series, Villanova Players have presented ‘The Kursk’ at the stunning Ron Hurley Theatre in Seven Hills. Based on true events, the production navigated tough circumstances and unfortunate tragedy, paying homage to those lost in a catastrophic event.
In August 2000, over 100 Russian submariners perished during a devastating explosion while out on a training exercise. The impact caused the submarine to split in two, with the bow being torn off the front. ‘The Kursk’ recounts rescue attempts and the lives of 23 men who remained in the other half of the submarine, at the bottom of the Barents Sea. Despite all efforts, there were no survivors during this historical naval accident.
Written by local Brisbane playwright, Sasha Janowicz, ‘The Kursk’ is part documentary and part tribute and cuts through scenes quickly. During the story, we traversed between a narrator; the crewmen trapped in the submarine; navy officers and their rescue attempts; and distressed relatives waiting to hear news about their loved ones. Such a style creates a fragmented storyline that requires detailed attention for an audience to follow the shifting dynamics.
Under Jill Cross’ direction, a minimalistic approach was used to convey the ever-changing scenes. The set had basic platforms to resemble piers, control rooms and submarine compartments, and two chairs stage left for various homes and outings. Actors entered and exited for various roles and were limited to their ‘zones’ for each part. While this seemed to be the right approach to a complicated script, blackouts were overused, stunting the flow of the overall production.
This repetition of continuously going to black made it difficult to fully engage with the storyline. It seemed to evoke a continuous cycle, where, as an audience member, it was difficult to understand the storyline – especially if you had not known any information about the disaster. The same directorial movements hindered the pace, which slowed down the momentum and impact of the show. It also took away the suspense needed to throttle into the next scene.
A true hero of ‘The Kursk’ was the innovative soundscape designed by Melanie Blizard. With the use of sub-sonic audio, voiceovers, recordings of the events and sound effects, the tension of the production was captured through her work. When entering the theatre, the acoustic environment was quickly established, with audio reflecting tones used within Hans Zimmer’s instrumentals in the dark scenes of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. An opportunity to bring the house lights down to a dimmer state, to imitate the claustrophobic themes within ‘The Kursk’, could have heightened the overall theatrical experience from the audience’s entry.
Although the script is a clinical portrayal of events, there was some nice work conceptualised by the technical elements during the scenes where the submariners were trapped. Lighting design by Tristan Holland, illuminated the actors in a blue watery wash, as they shared a platform, which emulated the small space. These types of effects, where lighting and sound came together, really ignited the show. Another moment which benefited from this was the green radar that swept across the walls of the theatre and over the audience during a submarine compartment countdown (to see where the sailors may lie).
While donned in impressive naval costumes, which were kindly sourced and donated by members and organisations within the community, the nine actors transitioned through 18 varied roles and quick changes. Although some portrayals were played melodramatically, there were some performances amongst the cast that aided the tragic tale.
Luke Monsour was conflicted and anguished as Admiral Popov, whose predicament is to try and save the sailors within the submarine; Steve Cameron was hopeful and loving as Dmitry Kolesnikov, a husband on the ship who was among the trapped; and Selina Kadell had an eeriness in her portrayal of the Woman in Black who spoke with wisdom about the sea and gave guidance for those troubled.
Not often a choice for community theatre, ‘The Kursk’ proved to be a daring pick for Villanova Players Theatre Company. While the theatre space was used effectively and some components were of a professional standard, some extra attention to detail in the overall flow and staging would have solidified the entire experience. Regardless, the confronting themes with the play were enough to make an audience think and reflect, before resurfacing again.
To learn more about Villanova Players Theatre Company and their upcoming ‘Sharp and Short’ events, visit www.villanovaplayers.com/.