"Immersive" is the buzzword for theatre at the moment, with audiences taking on the role of a redcoat for Hydrocracker's The Erpingham Camp on Brighton Pier, or donning a mask to wander the murky underworld of a railway tunnel in Punchdrunk's Tunnel 228.
Neither, though, can compete with the upcoming Kursk at the Young Vic. For this new play, inspired by the Russian naval disaster in 2000, audiences will be plunged into the claustrophobic confines of a submarine. The theatre's bijou Maria studio will be transformed into a war-class nuclear vessel, complete with control desk, bunkbeds and galley kitchen. The project is the brainchild of Sound & Fury – a thrusting young company made up of Ivor Novello-winning composer Dan Jones, actor Tom Espiner and his brother, Mark, a director – who specialise in creating unique theatrical soundscapes. Their previous productions include The Watery Part of the World, a Moby Dick–style drama, performed in near darkness and Ether Frolics, a trippy collaboration with Shunt which explored the history of anaesthesia.
Kursk is written by the Tony-nominatedBryony Lavery (Frozen). As part of her research, Lavery spent a day with the rest of the cast and crew on board HMS Torbay in Devon, clambering down the ladder, peering through the periscope and trying out the tiny bunks. "There were all these really charming gentlemen walking around with their heads tilted slightly to one side", she recalls."I was very proud of myself for going down there but I'd never get used to it."
Which is not a problem for one member of the cast. Ian Ashpitel, who plays Donnie Black, the ship's coxswain, joined the Navy in 1973, aged 16, and spent four years as a submariner on HMS Swiftsure and HMS Valiant at the height of the Cold War. His impetus for a career change came, apparently, when his submarine suffered engine failure and was forced to dock in Plymouth. Stuck on board, the men were visited by Su Pollard, in town for a show with her Hi-de-Hi co-stars, to boost morale. Inspired by this brush with the theatre, Ashpitel took the plunge and decided to re-train as an actor. Well, they do say stranger things happen at sea.
To 27 June, Young Vic, London SE1 (020-7922 2979)