IN September 1941 the German army laid siege to Leningrad, and the blockade lasted until January 1944 – the longest and most destructive siege in history.
It is thought that more than one and half million people died during the 872 day blockade. Half a million children were evacuated.
The Leningrad Radio Orchestra continued to rehearse and perform. The final winter was the coldest on record.
In a week when a man, for reasons that may be forever inexplicable, targeted an open air music concert for a random killing spree in Nevada, 5,000 miles away in a disused public swimming pool in Bristol a play has opened celebrating the human spirit and the power of music.
Ice Road, devised by Raucous, has taken over the Jacob’s Well Baths, where it will be performed until 19th November.
The cavernous room with its echoing “basement” (the space under the floor where the water used to be), its tortured white walls and its scaffolding buildings, is where the audience joins the residents of the great Russian city in their long hours of danger, terror and gnawing hunger.
Four unlikely companions scrape an existence on the streets. The mouthy Tati, the needy Zoya and the foolishly brave Kub have come to rely on the slightly older Leah. They cling together, Leah telling stories in the Russian way, folk tales with powerful messages.
Leah has a secret, a fragment of a former life to which she clings for sustenance. The younger children are curious. The end is inevitable.
The 75 minute promenade performance begins with a search for the missing Kub as the audience is taken from the comparative comfort of the bar into the snow-covered streets of the city. This is immersive theatre as you want it to be – involving, frightening, empowering and perception-changing.
And it could only happen in Bristol now. As well as the Raucous team, writer Sharon Clark, director Kate Hewitt, producer Emily Williams and designer Conor Murphy, the list of advisers includes Tom Morris from Bristol Old Vic, the internationally celebrated Aardman, and a group of creative tekkies you could only dream of.
The result is a multi-media show, full of unexpected sound, eye-popping visual tricks and explosive shocks.
At its heart are the four young actors, Heledd Gwynn, Roanna Lewis, Elin Phillips and Alex York. They weave their audience into the story and when they leave we look for them in the bleak streets. Their destiny is projected on the walls.
And we return to the light and the warmth, with a new glimpse of the unchanging inhumanity of man to man.
Experience it if you can. Details from www.raucous.org.uk/ice-road
Photographs by Jack Offord