Theatre Review: Pink Mist @ Bristol Old Vic
by Abi Hack
A stunning portrayal of the physical and emotional effects of war, Pink Mist is a mesmerising piece that beautifully captures the ‘aftershocks’ of being in the armed services.
The play follows the journeys of three Bristol boys (Arthur, Hads and Taff) whose childish infatuation with war plays a key role in their decision to sign up. Primarily told from the perspective of Arthur (Phil Dunster) – a spell-binding performance that has earned him a well-deserved Olivier award nomination – the whole ensemble work seamlessly together to tell a tragic narrative that revolves around the physical and psychological consequences of the boys decisions: post-traumatic stress, loss of limb, and even loss of life.
The show takes its name, Pink Mist, from a military term that describes the misty effect that occurs as a result of a gunshot wound, or the individual who has been hit/blown up and the ‘brief fine fog of blood droplets in the air’ that appears.
Taking its inspiration from physical and verbatim theatre, as well as dramatic verse (derived from Greek tragedy), directors John Retallack and George Mann have created a piece that doesn’t feel overwhelming in its attempts to utilise multiple creative forms. Each theatrical genre has been considered with great detail, and the piece fluidly transitions between stunning visual movement (individual and ensemble), heartfelt poetic monologues, moving dialogues and cleverly integrated visual effects; though the projector at the back was not necessarily used to its full potential.
Imaginative and emotional writing from Owen Sheers has helped create an important piece of contemporary theatre that is sure to become catapulted into the sphere of memorable war-based theatre. The writing is well-thought out and cleverly comments on the side of war that is not acknowledged within military propaganda.
The action of the piece is based entirely on a slightly raised square platform. All six actors remain visible throughout the entire performance and this constant exposure enforces a voyeuristic quality about the piece. The play is intimate and personal, yet relies on the acknowledgment that the audience are watching a theatrical performance.
With limited props (army helmets, a deck chair and a wheelchair), the narrative relies heavily on the unification of rhythmic prose and dance-style movement to tell the story.
Composer and sound designer, Jon Nicholls, has kept things fairly simple. The sound effects and contemporary music scores enhance the movement sequences and dramatic verse, whilst the moments of haunting silence create a chilling contrast, which taps into the emotion of the play.
Phil Dunster is the driving force of this piece, with his accomplished performance as lead character, Arthur, further enforcing the striking nature of the piece. His fluid movement was beautifully punctuated throughout the play, and teased the audience into forgetting the exaggerated or “unnaturalness” of his movement. This paired with the lulling intonation of his voice and innate ability as a storyteller, meant that we, the spectators, became lost in the conviction of his delivery.
The rest of the cast acted as a superb support and were a great asset to the show, but they undoubtedly appeared secondary to the triumph of Dunster’s performance.
Overall this is an incredibly successful piece of theatre, as it draws on the emotional turmoil of war using stunning visual aesthetics and mesmerising rhythmic verse. This is a play that I urge you to see before it's too late.