Writer: Owen Sheers
Director: John Retallack and George Mann
Reviewer: Tim Wright
‘Three of us did, what boys always have and left their homes for war”. This is the story of Taff, Arthur and Hads who left their homes in Bristol to fight in Afghanistan. Originally written for radio it now pulsates with a mix of physical theatre, dance and poetry – all delivered with an authentic Bristol twang.
‘Pink mist’ is a military term – it describes the moment a bullet hits its target and a light mist of blood is seen. It’s hard to reconcile the brutality of the subject matter with the beauty of the verse that describes it. It is this juxtaposition that writer Owen Sheers’ does so well. It is at once both delicate and brutal. The verse twists and turns, speeds up and slows down sweeping you along with it.
Telling most of the story is Arthur (an excellent Dan Krikler) who gives the boys the idea to sign up. It reminds them of the playground where the three of them always wanted to ‘play war’. Only this time it was for real. The story is a familiar one- young men without a sense of purpose, signing up together on the promise of adventure and a pay packet. The echoes of the First World War are obvious and Sheers knows it- his references to ‘whizz bangs’ shows just how little has changed.
This production, originally part of the 250th Anniversary of the Bristol Old Vic is very much in Bristol. The text is littered with references to local nightclubs, music and places. At times, though, the references are almost too much, like it’s trying just a little too hard to remind you where we are. The sheer weight of the verse might also be too much in one sitting and the first half does feel overly long as a result.
There is a strong cast and, as an ensemble, they move neatly and precisely to change from Bristol to battlefield. There’s something beautiful about the girlfriends and mothers of the boys joining in to act out sweeping for landmines. It’s a reminder that it wasn’t just the boys who went to war, they took their families too.
For all the clever movement in the play, though, it is Jon Nicholls’ sound design that really moves you. From the dubstep of a nightclub to the tone of a metal detector on the battlefield, the subtle shifts in sounds instantly transports you from place to place.
Pink Mist is just like the bullet that gave the piece its name. Direct, powerful and unforgiving.
Runs until 20 January 2017 and then continues to tour | Image: Mark Douet