Writer: Owen Sheers
Directors: John Retallack and George Mann
Reviewer: John Kennedy
Euphemisms used in modern warfare remain morally, not least mortally, ambiguous. ‘Friendly fire/collateral damage/blue on blue’ all deflect the realities of how both soldiers and civilians become explainable tactical and strategic statistics. In platform Gaming, ‘Pink Mist’ describes the score-count rewarding impact and exit of a high-velocity bullet to an enemy’s head. Or a person explosively vapourised. In the week leading up to tonight’s performance context has visceral immediacy.
‘According to the Ministry of Justice, veterans represent between 4% and 5% of the UK prison population, raising concerns about the impact of the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns on mental health issues in the armed forces.’
‘The former marine sergeant Alexander Blackman, whose murder conviction for shooting dead a Taliban prisoner was quashed this week.’
Inspired by thirty interviews with returned servicemen from recent conflicts, Owen Sheers’ elegiac anthem for a doomed youth is told principally through the recollections of Army Rifles’ enlistee, the eighteen-year-old, charismatic Arthur (Dan Krickler). Friends Taff and Had, like Arthur, are stuck in dead-end jobs in Bristol. They take the Queen’s shilling and with a suitcase each and some cans in hand they’re off to Catterick for ‘Basics’.
Some six weeks later the sun-scorched, cordite-reeking mayhem of Afghanistan welcomes them with the cold embrace of a rictus claw. Each soldier’s tale is told in turn as the escalating vortices of violence take their toll. A bare stage-riser, a bench, wheelchair and projection screen are sufficient props.
Sound Designer/Composer, Jon Nicholls, creates an enveloping audio dynamic of shock and awe. Screen projections of lurid fireball explosions hang ominously above the fetal blasted squaddies like Rorschach cards. This is a deadly game of Afghan roulette for shell-shocked players who know each returning ‘Tour’ spins another bullet in their personal chamber of horrors. The cast’s muscular, coordinated flowing mime and near-balletic synchronised expressionism is primal in its brutal beauty: at moments of heightened tension becoming hypnotic, ritualised – near pagan. The language is poetically charged with rifle-crack sniper-sharp verse. Electro-Beat prose shakes and rattles with gallows-grim barrack-room banter.
Each man brings home his own very private mental conflict zone, hard barbed-wired into his damaged psyche. They have brought the Devil home on leave. Mothers and girlfriends, helpless in their struggle to understand this inexplicable, brutal metamorphosis at least have recourse to screaming on the outside. ‘Find a pattern, A God, a Law to explain it all!’ cries Taff.
This is superlative drama of exceptional artistry. A subtle bludgeon of the senses where soldiers’ lives become Francis Bacon studies in a gallery of an atrocity exhibition. A misplaced boot triggering an IED is one step beyond oblivion to the last ever R&R at ‘Rose Cottage’ back at Camp Bastion – cool, dark shelving set aside for the remains of the day. Pink Mist is a portrait of personal purgatories, a perpetual tapestry of tragedies woven from unbroken blood-drenched threads first spun to the laments of Euripides’ Trojan Women.
In April 2006, Defense Secretary, John Reid, in an often, misquoted statement, expressed the aspiration that British troops might be able to leave Afghanistan without firing a shot.
Runs until 25 March 2017 | Image: Marc Douet