Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Triumphant Return for Owen Sheers Drama

Pink Mist

Bristol Old Vic , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , February-01-17
Pink Mist by Bristol Old Vic On its first production two years ago John Retallack's and George Mann's adaptation of “Pink Mist” was acclaimed universally. Its new eleven-venue tour, not least across Wales, is well-deserved. Britain's wars of the twenty-first century are receding in history but their aftermath is not. Owen Sheers' dramatisation of the lives of three Bristol men and three women has a hammer-blow impact and one theme that predominates. Iraq and Afghanistan were subjects for theatre for many pieces during the years of their fighting. None delivers quite the effect of “Pink Mist” that the women at home, and their infants, are equal casualties of conflict. The description of living with a traumatised returnee is given to a partner. It is unrelenting in its detail right down to the cigarette left a-lit until it burns the knuckle.

Theatre worries, rightfully, about its connection to a world that it is bigger than itself. At a platform session after the first performance at Aberystwyth the company tells how service veterans have seen their performance and reacted with gratitude and depth of emotion. “Pink Mist” reaches across to those who are its subject for a reason that is simple. It is suffused with feeling but is bereft of sentimentality. Peter Edwards' Geraint is given a short speech on what the basic training at Catterick Camp has done. In a butcher's window there are scrawny chickens and there are tough hunks of meat. Owen Sheers does not do preachery from a desk. The Services do something for these teenagers where the big world fails. Early on the central figure Arthur describes his daily life at Portbury Dock, the country's largest car-park, in all its repetitive mundanity.

A timely article has appeared the day before the company's first performance of the tour. Lyn Gardner has put “Pink Mist” in context alongside Alexander Zeldin’s “Love” and Katherine Soper’s “Wish List” as well as a number of recent productions including Ella Hickson’s “Oil”. “These plays get to the very core of the nation’s soul and psyche” is a big statement that can be debated. But the means is not: “they do it without big third-act speeches telling you what to think.” Theatre with opinions in place of sharpness of eye and ear is its killer.

This is one of three principal impressions that most strike home on seeing “Pink Mist” for a second time- the first production has a review of some length on this site from July 2015. The second is the sharpness for sensory detail that is a poet's sensibility. Alex Steadman as Hads returns to his rough home area of Shirehampton and relishes the smell of rain on tarmac. He is overwhelmed by the greenness of Britain's green.

The third is that this is art only achieved through the deepest collaboration. The company pays public tribute to their stage manager. Peter Harrison’s lighting gets a harshness of yellow for Helmand. Jon Nicholls’ sound design is complex and crucial for the impact of sudden explosion. As physical theatre, in the main devised by George Mann and the company, “Pink Mist” has a bigger script than usual for the genre. As a drama it is higher in physicality than the norm. The flow of word and action is seamless. Dan Krikler's Arthur is the narrator who leads. But look past the speaker and see the quality of the playing behind. The point of “Pink Mist” is the toll that is levied on those at home. Rebecca Hamilton as Gwen, Zara Ramm as Sarah and Rebecca Killick as Lisa are exemplary.

The company is unanimous in praise for the writing. The action goes from Camp Bastion in Helmand to clubs in Bristol. Owen Sheers is rebuke to the style of writing that considers an accretion of f***ing to be expressive authenticity. It isn't and he doesn't.

“Pink Mist” is at the Sherman, February 2nd to 4th, Pontio March 14th and Taliesin Arts Centre, March 17th-18th. The tour continues until April 1st at Ipswich, Oxford, Edinburgh, Eastbourne, Winchester, Birmingham and Leeds.

Photo credit: Mark Douet

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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