Robust, beautiful, emotional and refreshingly masculine. That is the achievement of Owen Sheers with Pink Mist.
It has the veracity of a work based on the interviews conducted by Sheers with soldiers and retains real voices speaking through the writer’s finely crafted prose poetry. It is also a magnificent piece of theatre thanks to wonderful choreography and direction that makes this show a glorious elegant and vibrant combination of physical theatre, almost contemporary dance, words, music and lighting.
There isn’t anything particularly new in what is said, three working class lads who sign up to escape their humdrum lives, assert their masculinity, have a raison d’etre and, of course, there are grim consequences. Similarly, the story shows us the other victims, the women in their lives which is also a familiar theme. There is nothing wrong with that – it is always worth telling and should never be forgotten, whatever the war, whatever the cause, whatever the ideology.
Alex Stedman, Dan Krikler and Peter Edwards
Dan Krikler and Zara Ramm
However, what makes this special isn’t so much what it says but how it says it. This is throat-grabbing, heart-wrenching thought and emotion hewn from granite-hard experience and polished into a mesmerising, hypnotising, shockingly alluring aesthetic.
The lads shout, “Who wants to play war?” and this echoes throughout the work from the Bristol playground where Arthur, Taff and boys went to school, their signing up still boys, not yet men, to their training and then war in Afghanistan.
It must have been an incredible experience watching this play, or listening to the original play for voices, in the West Country with Sheer’s use of the Bristolian accent, the rhythms and sound of that city’s working class population, well-known local place names, events in the city’s calendar, bars and clubs, housing states and local jargon.
It would spoil the experience to say too much more, even the name of the play comes as a kick in the stomach surprise, and while there is bound to be heartbreak and tragedy – where would be the drama without it? – but each episode comes as a heartbreaking shock.
In the lead role Dan Krikler is magnificent and has to be as the structure of the work is basically a dramatic monologue interspersed with contributions from the other players; his two friends Taff played by Peter Edwards and Hads played by Alex Stedman and the women in their lives played by Rebecca Hamilton, Rebecca Killick and Zara Ramm.
The players are transformed from voices to stage players through the elegant, fluid and at times shocking physical language that so wonderfully compliments Sheers’ words, from John Retallack and George Mann.
Jon Nicholls’ delicate sound design and lighting from Peter Harrison are also vital players in the work enabling the use of Emma Cains’ most simple of sets and minimal props and evoking vivid, disturbing mindscapes.
The first half of the evening was the most poetically engaging with Sheer’s repetition of just gorgeous leitmotifs that were realised through the physical actions of the players. In the second half this youthful, almost naïve beauty, is transformed into a harsher, raw, face slapping prose as the boys now men crash into the reality of their fates.
Superb. There is no shame in having a tear in the eye at the end of this performance and being left awestruck by this honest and visceral piece of theatre written by a man who can put men as the central subjects of his work without being apologetic, pretentious, patronising or painfully pc.
Main image: Dan Krikler
Images: Mark Douet
Aberystwyth Arts Centre
31 January – 1 February, 7.30pm,
2 – 4 February, 7.30pm
Matinee 4 February, 2.30pm
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
7 – 10 February
The Playhouse, Oxford
14 – 18 February
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
23 – 25 February
Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne
7 – 11 March
Theatr Bryn Terfel, Bangor
Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea
17 – 18 March
Theatre Royal, Winchester
20 – 21 March
Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Birmingham
23 – 25 March
Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
28 March – 1 April