I have seen this play in production twice, but this is the first time I’ve read the script. What an amazing job Sasha Janowicz has done to create a tense thriller out of a disaster that captured the world’s attention.
K-141 The Kursk was a Russian submarine, damaged in an explosion/collision on August 12, 2000. Everyone on board died in the incident, although some survived for at least 4 hours after the accident.
Janowicz has researched extensively because he was appalled by the Western media’s reports of the incident. He refused to believe many of the reports and set out to interview specialists in the field and read the extensive Russian reports. In his author’s note he says:
Truth can be buried, forgotten and reality changed so that the lessons of the past remain unlearnt. We have developed an alarmingly short historical memory as a civilisation. This means we are sailing without a compass. We must become aware of the course before we get where we do not want to be. (5)
The play begins with a collection of drowned voices:
Drive forth the slimy monsters of the deep,
Chase out the schools of fish that clog the hulls,
Mend uniforms with seaweed threads, and keep
Burnished with sand the brass that sea-rust dulls.
Then, on the point of midnight, as the chime
Of living bells is rung,
My dear, drowned friends,
(A violent intake of breath.)
And then it moves into the world of mariners and submariners, radio communications, static crackling and the desperate rescue attempts.
The Kursk is an incredibly moving play, both on stage and on the page. It threads three stories together: the love story between the newly-wed Dimitry Kolesnikov and his wife Olga; Admiral Popov’s desperate rescue attempts; and the fate of the submariners trapped in The Kursk. It weaves naval references and dense research with a human drama, all the more awful because we know it is true. Janowicz’s first play is captivating and illuminating. I hope there will be more from him.
Publisher: Playlab Press
Cast: 4M, 2F (could be played by a larger cast as it includes doubling, tripling and quadrupling of roles)