Bush Theatre, London (****)
They call it the fog of war but Owen Sheers’ Pink Mist presents us with a modern contemporary version – `pink mist’, the moment when `one of your mates…goes in a flash, from being there to not…that’s all they are. A fine spray of pink…’.
Sheers, an award-winning novelist and poet, was responsible for the site specific Port Talbot The Passion last year and in 2012 for The Two Worlds of Charlie F, a project involving ex-servicemen and their rehabilitation based on their experiences. So successful was the production – performed by the vets – it toured, then under a new title, Pink Mist became a radio play, then a stage play presented last year by the Bristol Old Vic.
So much for the hard facts. It hardly begins to describe the painful, horrific actuality Sheers captures in his verse drama of young squaddies sent to do battle in Afghanistan and the consequences – boys transformed into men and before scarcely realising it, shattered back into pre-pubescence, shorn of limb and mind, if not life.
There have been a legion of post- war plays in my life-time – Vietnam, the Falklands, Northern Ireland, Iraq and onwards – analysing the human cost alongside often furious critiques of the doomed operations themselves.
If there is one thing missing from this otherwise deeply moving and extraordinary production by John Retallack and George Mann, it is a sense of political context or questioning of the UK’s recent military Middle East `adventures’. Given the play’s beginnings and the appalling price paid by those supplying the raw material, it’s probably hardly surprising.
By any standards, Retallack and Mann’s production is a tour de force of disciplined muscle and emotion with Philip Dunster outstanding as the narrating soldier, `Arthur’.
A homage to misguided youth (and the wives and mothers left to pick up the pieces), Sheers’ writing is at its most powerful in the sights, sounds and feelings he evokes of young men in the first flush of youth, champing at the bit for something more than a 9-5 existence and in the bonding army life engenders.
Let’s hope Pink Mist continues to tour. It should be required reading and viewing throughout the land.