“Gain skills, grow as a person, become a better you!” These are just some of the things you will hear in the current British armed forces radio recruitment advert. Having seen Pink Mist, hearing an advert like this made me extremely angry. Obviously it’s not going to tell you about the huge potential for loss of feeling, character, body parts and life, that joining the army entails. But to think that people sign up without a second thought about the negative effects just like the protagonist in this play, makes me feel sick. We all know of the potential horrors that exist being a member of the armed forces – potential serious injury and death. But if you survive, there is also the likely possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder affecting your life long after you have done your service.
All of this and more was on display in Owen Sheers’ powerful Pink Mist that transferred from the Bristol Old Vic to the Bush. It is the story of three young Bristolians, one of whom joins the army and persuades the others to do so too. Presented beautifully through poignant narrative poetry, Phil Dunster leads us through the fate of his and his friends’ time in the army. Combined with the exquisite text, a powerful display of perfectly synced movement between the cast added an arresting visual style to this play that was originally commissioned as a radio play for Radio 4.
Phil’s character in the play, Arthur, is lured by everything the radio advert cites – becoming a better person, learning skills with an opportunity to see the world. Being stuck in a dead end job parking cars all day, who can blame a young man for seeing the army as both an escape and as an opportunity. But the tragic reality hits hard when best friend, Taff, has his legs blown of by a land mine in Afghanistan, whilst his other friend, Hads, loses his grasp on life due to PTSD. All three suffer intensely from PTSD in horrendous ways – although Hads is the most affected. The effects of war live on well after being back on civvy street.
There are some plays that everyone should see. Pink Mist is one of them. If everyone thinking of enlisting, on the basis of MOD propaganda, could see ‘Pink Mist’ we would throw away far fewer lives. And if only every world leader could see it too. Beautifully presented with an intensity that will last long in the memory. Fantastic writing and work from everyone involved in this harrowing play.
Highlight of the play – Arthur’s final moments of life, followed by him walking us through his first moments as a dead man. And also the opening speech and movement sequence – “fisherman blowing on their fingerless gloves.”