Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Struggle of veterans on return from war shook us to the core

WHAT’S the Pink Mist of the title? It’s all that’s left of a soldier after being hit by a shell, or blown up by a roadside bomb. Sorry to be so hard hitting but that’s exactly what this deeply affecting play is.

Pink Mist by Owen Sheers pulls no punches and it leaves us winded and chastened. Young men, barely properly formed, go to war in Afghanistan and come back maimed and changed forever. Or dead.

You might think this is a story we’ve heard many times before; yes, we have, but not told like this. Sheers has taken the accounts of veterans and fashioned them into a narrative which is as realistic as theatre can be without actually being on the battlefield.

The combination of words, movement and sound plot make for a disturbing but riveting story as we enter the lives of three aimless Bristol boys, going nowhere, looking for a purpose and believing they’ve found it in the Army.

The point is that they have found it, but at what cost? They form their friendships, their loyalties and their new priorities. They redefine their lives within a conflict they’re not really all that sure about, but they’re there patrolling out of Camp Bastion.

The loyalty stream goes: Battalion, Company, Platoon, four-man firing unit; the last is the one that means most to them, it’s that which forms the deepest bonds. They rely upon each other, fight for each other and when the worst happens are filled with hatred for the people who killed their mates. When they return on leave they are unconnected with their mothers, wives and girlfriends and the women can’t find a path to reach them.

The pace of this show never lets up: the three soldiers and their three womenfolk are on stage throughout in a fluid ensemble of movement and words.

One movement among many shows the originality and power of this production: a soldier steps back on to a mine, he does a slow motion backwards handstand and is guided by the rest of the cast straight into a wheelchair. The result of their adventuring is that one comes back without legs, another is mentally destroyed and winds up leaving his wife and son to sleep on the streets, and the third doesn’t come back at all.

This play does a great deal but one thing certainly emerges: those hollow-eyed men sitting with sleeping bags in the underpasses and streets of our towns have got there through a process which would horrify us and it’s prompted this reviewer to feel more charitably towards them.

Until Saturday.

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