Talk about suffering for your art, or art imitating life; this eerie play, written by Bryony Lavery, is the closest most of us are likely to get to being inside a submarine.
Having to leave behind coats, bags etc before entering the auditorium immediately makes you think of security risks, so tension sets in from the start. It rarely lets up, though interspersed with the boring minutiae of everyday routine on a British sub’s covert journey north. The men constantly reiterate instructions and actions, passing the time with repeated games, japes etc. Amongst other things, which provides an amusing subplot; a genuine anticlimax.
Earnest coxswain, Donnie Mac (Jonah Russell), is studying poetry, and learning about haiku provides a useful metaphor: maximum impact via few words and constraint of form. Laurence Mitchell produces an effective portrayal of a not altogether effective commander, particularly when faced with dilemma, counterpointed by Keir Charles as Casanova Ken. There’s an excellent performance from Ian Ashpitel as the other Donnie (Black), as well as Tom Espiner, touching New Dad Mike.
Dialogue is occasionally inaudible, but we learn more about the men through voiceovers: messages from the folks at home. While some of these back stories seem painfully obvious, the outcome is more unexpected, if seemingly contrived.
Unfortunately, it ends up reminiscent of those headlines ‘Millions dead in earthquake; British man breaks ankle’. Thus with novelty at times drowning out nuance, the plot is in danger of being overwhelmed by the intricate set and the amazing effects (take your place on the upper level and you’d swear it’s actually moving). Sophisticated use of sound in particular recreates a claustrophobic and intense experience.
However, the title is a misnomer with the production taking the form of Greek Chorus, though writ large, say, Oh What a Lovely War narrated by a member of the audience. It limits understanding and ultimately, engagement. The most dramatic part of the play may involve the doomed sub and its horrifying tragedy but takes up a fraction of the running time. Worse still, the most harrowing scene seemed out of place, when it would have made a stunning conclusion.
That said, worth attending because Sound&Fury have come up with an astonishing theatrical experience. But some may feel it’s a shame about the play.