Pink Mist

Bristol Old Vic
19 February 2016

One of my Christmas presents from Tim was tickets to the play Pink Mist at Bristol Old Vic, which I knew nothing about except that it’s all in verse and was first performed last year. So it’s modern and experimental but in other ways classical, harking back even as far as ancient Greek theatre. Because this is the story of three young men – boys, really, the main character Arthur corrects himself – who go to war.

The boys grew up together in Bristol and there’s a lot of name-checking Bristol locations and nightclubs. When Arthur (played by Phil Dunster) signs up to the army, aged 18, he is keen for his two best friends Taff (Peter Edwards) and Hads (Alex Stedman) to join him. After basic training they go to Afghanistan together and suddenly they’re not playing at war anymore.

There are six actors on stage throughout: Arthur and his girlfriend Gwen (played by Rebecca Hamilton); Taff and his wife Lisa (Rebecca Killick); Hads and his mother (Zara Ramm). The set is sparse and the only change of wardrobe is some army helmets. The sound, on the other hand, is a well-designed mix of music and effects, fading from dubstep beats to gunfire to eerie silence.

The script was written by Owen Sheers after he interviewed 30 returned servicemen, and this shows in the brutal truth behind the words. War is not about politics, it’s about young men getting angry. And it’s not just their own lives on the line because anything that goes wrong for them also affects their friends and family. Which seems like an obvious statement, but it’s still powerful to see it play out on the stage in front of you.

Powerful is the word I keep coming back to. But by that I don’t just mean that it deals with extremes, that all six characters get their moment(s) of anguish. In fact, I was the most impressed by Dunster and Hamilton playing the central couple, because their characters were quiet, thoughtful, subtle and considered. Not that any of the histrionic moments were uncalled for. I’d probably shout a bit too if I saw someone get blown up.

I highly recommend this play, which is showing until 5 March.