‘Pink Mist’: Playing War Is Playing With Fire

The long-awaited play by Owen Sheers, originally commissioned by BBC Radio 4, finally hit the ground at Bristol Old Vic. It was well worth the wait.

Pink Mist is about three young men who hastily join the Army and go to fight in Afghanistan, also seen through the eyes of the women in their lives. Their experiences are recounted from the moment of making that decision including the individual circumstances that brought it about, to the traumas of coming back home with a suitcase full of emotional baggage.

Peter Edwards (Taff), Erin Doherty (Lisa) Rebecca Hamilton (Gwen), Phil Dunster (Arthur), Zara Ramm (mother), Alex Stedman (Hads). Pink Mist

Mastering the voice of each character, Pink Mist truly echoes with meaning and invites deep empathy. Sheers puts it better when he says: ‘Pink Mist is a piece of theatre that grew through ideas of voice. It began with listening to the voices of recently wounded service personnel and their families.’

The violence is there, even when it’s not. The tone is set early on, when main character Arthur recounts his and his friends’ emptiness, the yearning for adventure, the seeking of something missing, and the search for meaning in their lives. Although different – vulnerable, lost, proud – they all find their answer in going to Afghanistan to make history.

When Taff’s wife, Lisa screams in hysterical anger over her husband’s destiny, the audience is silently screaming inside themselves. When all three of them are on a mission with Hads leading the way checking for bombs, the audience trembles with fear all along. When Arthur hallucinates that he’s in Afghanistan on a night out in Bristol and goes to sleep in the forest, the audience feels the pain too.

Pink Mist at Bristol Old Vic. Rebecca Hamilton (Gwen) and Phil Dunster (Arthur)

As the play is set in Bristol, the numerous spaces brought to life in the show are another add-on to being truly gripped. While Arthur remembers the exact spot they were at – Banksy’s Skeleton Rower – when he, Taff and Hads made the decision to join the Army, one is inevitably there with them.

Honouring the worthy script and realigning Pink Mist from a radio drama to a staged play has definitely been no easy matter. All characters needed to be on stage during the two-hour performance, and the way of incorporating physical language into their voices must have been a challenge. They move in perfect sync, and huge attention has been paid to developing frequent direct eye contact with the audience, which penetrates with further meaning to their voices, and sometimes even sets shivers.

“Who wants to play war” – chant the six of them, as they’re opening and closing Pink Mist, and these words are to reverberate long after the show is over.

To make an arresting piece of work covering a topic that’s been almost fully exhausted for centuries – war – is a great talent.

Pink Mist is at Bristol Old Vic until July 11. For tickets and more info: www.bristololdvic.org.uk/pinkmist.html

Photos: Mark Douet