PINK MIST by OWEN SHEERS is touring the UK following sell-out runs in Bristol and London in 2016
Pink Mist follows the lives of three young men from Bristol who are deployed to Afghanistan, exploring the physical and psychological damage that it does to them and the effect that it subsequently has on their families. Although being on the frontline seems exciting at first, it seems that even once off-duty, the war never really ends for Arthur, Hads and Taff. This remarkable production combines physical theatre and an immersive lighting/sound experience with a powerful script. Inspired by 30 interviews with returned servicemen, Owen Sheers’ script depicts the horrors and repercussions of war not only on the frontline, but also in the home.
Arthur, Hads and Taff are three ordinary young men at the start of their lives. Arthur works at the dock, Hads has a promising job at Next and Taff is already a father to a little boy. However, life feels stagnant, and like many young men, they long for adventure and excitement. With every week working towards the predictable, intoxicated Friday brawls at the local pub, something has to change. From the beginning, the young men come across as the sort of boys we all know, whether we went to school with them, or know them as friends or family. The fact that they are drawn to the promise of travel and new experiences which joining the army would provide is a reaction that is more than understandable. There are flashbacks to their time at primary school when “playing war” would be a regular playground activity, something they relished; later, they are shown playing Call of Duty, the video game. Throughout their lives, and now ingrained into their psyche, the prospect of war has seemed as attractive, fun, even. The way their lives progress from this point, as they appear so disillusioned about the reality they are stepping into, only goes to show how dangerous this culture of trivialising war and violence, which is sugar-coated for the playground, can be.
The cast is stellar. Dan Krikler shines as Arthur, providing most of the narration throughout, and his personable nature makes his death particularly hard-hitting. Alex Stedman is endearing as Hads, and Peter Edwards plays Taff with convincing intensity, giving a terrifying flash of the reality of living life with PTSD. The women are slightly more in the background and provide much of the physical theatre aspect, but all add to the strength of the production. There are some lovely moments from Zara Ramm, Hads’ mother Sarah, as she comes to terms with Hads’ disability, and powerful monologues from the girlfriends, Rebecca Hamilton (Gwen) and Rebecca Killick (Lisa).
Visual symbolism is rife throughout, often foreshadowing major events. There are only a few props, a significant one being a wheelchair, which lurks ominously at the back of the stage. It seems to follow Hads, first as the seat which he sits on to play Call of Duty; later, it becomes his only form of transport when his legs are blown off by an undetected mine. Arthur also uses the wheelchair at one point, jokingly skating across the stage, perhaps a ghostly presence of his fate too. The second main prop, a long table that converts into a lounge chair, has a similarly dark presence – initially used as an obstacle in their training, it becomes a stretcher and a coffin for Arthur.
The themes of children and war are closely connected in this play, not just in the playground flashbacks but equally the symbolic movements present within the physical aspects of the play. When a grenade gets thrown at the house of an Afghan family, a fin-like shard gets lodged in the chest of the baby – the child is the same age as his son, and as Taff recounts his horror, the rest of the cast become the injured child, writhing and mimicking the fin-like shrapnel with their hands. At one point the three women, Arthur and Taff’s girlfriends and Hads’ mother, each cradle an army helmet as if it were a baby, a potently symbolic act. There is no doubt about how much war affects family and home life. Taff poignantly says of his girlfriend Lisa that “she’s still serving her tour … been on it for years now, with no R and R [rest and recuperation]”. The after-effects of his experience, the pent-up fear and anger, and PTSD, haunts them all.
Pink Mist is not just about three young men. It is not just about Afghanistan or Bristol. The same story has been told time and again, across the centuries. War has always taken away young men, cut them off in their prime and torn apart families – and it will happen again. This is one of the most important plays you will see this year, or perhaps the most important you will ever see. When the touring production came to the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, it finished with tears and a standing ovation. Furthermore, not only is this story important, the production itself is breath-taking. It is worth seeing if only for the cast’s tight and precise movement, as good as any dance troupe, and the powerful acting. An emotionally intense show of great importance – certainly one not to be missed.