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Pink Mist

by on 21 October 2018

Dramatic Narrative in MotionWW1 IWM logo

Pink Mist

by Owen Sheers

Teddington Theatre Club at the Hampton Hill Theatre until 27th October

Review by Celia Bard

On display in The Temple Church in London is a poem entitled “A Phantasy” written by a little-known poet, Wilf Hastwell, who’d once served as a chorister in The Temple. The poem’s brutal imagery and harsh word sounds clearly reveals the deeply disturbed mind of this young soldier. On Easter Sunday 8th April 1917 this poet soldier was killed in the trenches in France, most likely dissipating into a fine cloud of blood entering the atmosphere, creating a ‘pink mist’, the title of this play. Since then countless numbers of soldiers have died or have been physically disabled. Of the three young soldiers, the main characters in Pink Mist, one is blown up by an IED (an improvised explosive device – i.e a homemade bomb), another loses both legs, the third loses his mind. From the onset of the play, like the poem, the audience is faced with the terrible reality of war and its aftermath. Nothing has changed since that War, the one that was supposed to End All Wars.

Pink Mist tells the story of three young men, Arthur, Taff and Hads, who are deployed to Afghanistan after enlisting to get away from their homes and monotonous lives. The play is written in verse and, like the poem referred to above, the rhythmic lines imprint themselves on the minds of the audience. The playwright in an interview explains that his drama is based on interviews with recently wounded men and their families. The authenticity of the experiences of these men shine through the drama with stark reality.

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The opening scene shows the three soldiers and the women in the lives, a wife, a mother, a girlfriend, enacting a series of poetic dramatisations of their lives: their growing up experience in Bristol, including the boys’ childhood ironic chants of “Who Wants to Play War?”; the appeal of the army; the horrific reality of war, it is not a game; the return to civilian life; the psychological and physical changes in the men resulting from their traumatic experience of fighting in Afghanistan, and the impact this has on the lives of their womenfolk.

This highly dramatic narrative proem provides a wonderful opportunity for physical drama and the cast, director and back stage crew do not disappoint. The innovative choreographed movements and gestures of the actors, the backgrounds sounds of war such as the sudden explosions, high pitched screams of a woman, atmospheric and vivid lighting succeed in assaulting the senses, pulling the audience into a hypnotic alliance with the actors and the characters they portray.

The verse is powerful and rich in imagery. The rhythm and sound patterns contribute to the sense of horror and futility experienced by the three soldiers who join the army as boys but soon mature into revengeful fighting machines. The verse contains such a strong mesmerising quality, you hardly dare to breathe, so compelling is the dramatic quality of the poetic lines, the imagery, the action, and the acting.

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David Shortland is outstanding as Arthur Brown, the young lad whose imagination is fired by advertising posters plastered on the walls of the Information Centre, and later as the mature soldier known as “King” to his mates. David totally owns this role as narrator and also in his interaction with other characters. His quieter and deeply poetic moments are very moving especially when describing the taking of a bird’s egg from its nest, and when watching a man dive to his death from a cliff top. These moments contrast sharply with his more action-filed moments … ….

Tom Cooper as Taff provides a powerful interpretation of a young man who plummets the depth of despair when he witnesses first hand the impact of “Blue upon Blue”, friendly fire. Back in civvy street he withdraws more and more from his wife and young child, drinking heavily and eventually ending up sleeping on the streets. At the end of the play we see there is some level of redemption and feel that his fractured and tortured mind might start to recover. This is a beautifully rounded and sensitive performance.

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Hads played by Jack Lumb is an interesting character, just seventeen when he joins the army. Not much older when he loses both his legs whilst sweeping the landscape for I.E.Ds. Early in his recovery he expresses a feeling of relief that although he has lost his legs, he still has life. Later he sinks onto a slough of despair. His recovery begins when Arthur is bought home in a coffin. The stumps of his legs are not healed, there is danger that he will do further damage to his back if he stands, but he does stand to honour his friend. This young actor does justice to this exacting physical role which demands so much from an actor.

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Pink Mist is beautifully balanced in terms of its male and female characters. The writer’s portrayal of women is not neglected and contrasts sharply with that of the men. The women may be smaller, but they are strong. The men mature physically but are reduced at times to childhood. Arthur’s long-suffering girl friend, Gwen, played by Rebecca Tarry, provide a multifaceted portrayal. In turn she is angry, frustrated, hurt by Arthur’s insensitive behaviour, but she remains loyal. Asha Gill as Lisa is totally convincing as the frustrated mother of not one child but two: the second, her husband. Hads’s mother, Sarah, played by Helen Lowe moves from a position of non-recognition and shock to one of total love and support. All three women actors give fine and sensitive performances.

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Nigel Cole and Gita Singham-Willis must be applauded for their craftmanship, without doubt they are a winning duo. The transformation between scenes work seamlessly, the choreography and physicality of the actors complement the verse and the cinematographic images succeed in establishing different time periods and locations. The wonderful sound and lighting effects bring home the horrors of the battlefields contrasting sharply with the beat and frenzy of the nightclub. This production of Pink Mist is drama at its best. The beautiful poetic nature of the narrative, its stark realism, wonderful acting and choreography, superb direction, make it a production not to be missed.

Celia Bard
October 2018

Photography by Sarah J Carter

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