We’re in the low-lit bar of Jacob’s Wells Baths, a shot of Vodka in hand, wartime Bolshevik posters splattering the walls, Russian folk music just audible above our expectant chatter. Tati, Zoya and Leah burst into the room, lanterns held at face level, shouting in Russian, desperate, wild-eyed, searching for their comrade.
Has anyone seen Kub?
We’re silently herded by ushers into a high roofed room that once would have housed the swimming pool here, now sepulchral, dark, war torn. This is Leningrad, 1942, under full siege – the city the World forgot. On entering the building, we each were handed a freshly cut flower, which we’re now encouraged wordlessly to lay down on the floor of impressive (fake) snow in remembrance of the dead, exchanging them for a satchel speaker. These speakers, which we hang dutifully from our necks, will form part of the promenade show, occasionally spouting snippets of personal testimonies/white noise/music.
Conor Murphy’s dramatic set is reminiscent of the survival strategy game, War of Mine. The imposing scaffolding, symbolising bombed buildings, stretches up to the impossibly high roof – this skeleton adorned only with ladders as stairs and metal gates for doors. Our four orphans clamber up and down, telling stories, chasing each other, watching out for German aircraft, retrieving possession (singular) and naively planning their escape along The Ice Road, the only route out of besieged Leningrad, away from starvation and enemy fire in this endlessly freezing winter.
This is theatre so immersive that each audience member, twisting and shifting as they turn to watch the cast, appears to be another zombie-like comrade, confused and weak from the bone-deep cold and a dire lack of food. Aardman’s animation is projection mapped faultlessly by Limbic Cinema; Timothy X Atack’s sound design mingles with Ben Pacey’s lighting to unleash a terrifying taste of a hopeless war. The completeness of this experience threatens at first to lose Sharon Clark’s story but Raucous’ four actors pull it back with a manic energy that belongs uniquely to human beings who scrabble with all their might not to perish. Leah (Heledd Gwynn) is the older friend and comrade, strong, dependable, the leader. Tati (Elin Phillips) is angry, foul mouthed, bent on survival at any cost. Zoya (Roanna Lewis) is young, mindful of others and in need of guidance and love. Kub (Alex York), the only boy is, like Zoya, no more than a child who seeks near-fatal adventure. This is a gang for whom playing has morphed forever into a game of endurance – to the death.
A lesson in modern history, The Ice Road is a piece of theatre that will be hard to forget. It’s raw, honest and brutally good.
The Ice Road takes over Jacob’s Wells Baths until 19th November. Tickets are available via Raucous’s website
Image by Jack Offord, with thanks