We remember he went to Vietnam decades ago full of gung ho. He returned a year later looking for his girlfriend Donna. John was hypnotised by the world of guns. His girl spurned him, gently but emphatically. She wanted to be an English teacher. Two years later he was dead from leukaemia, probably kick-started by a chemical agent.
Hundreds of similar cases cascaded into Britain after the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The wars ended last decade. But for damaged soldiers, the battles continue: broken bodies, broken minds, shattered families.
Pink Mist, at The Rep’s Studio in Birmingham, profiles in acidic wounded language the casualties who come back, maimed, brutalised, half off the beam from the gristle of combat, the horror of seeing bodies explode into a drizzle of blood by high calibre impact (the Pink Mist of the title). It is a brutal highly charged play about permanent collateral damage for both forgotten vets and their families.
The script by Owen Sheer is based on 30 interviews he carried out with recovering soldiers in and around Bristol. And though it is a natural radio play, it does translate to the theatre.
Sheer fires his exceptional weaponry of words at us and they come whistling past us like an enfilade of vicious gunfire. You almost feel you have to duck into a trench to avoid being wounded by the verbal artillery.
The cast is led by Phil Dunster who forms the narrative of how his buddies fared on the return; one with no legs, another with no mind and himself, Arthur, with a restless tick in his body that can’t let him rest, despite the understanding and tenderness of his girlfriend. It is a bravura performance.
Set design in this Bristol Old Vic touring production is sparse. The only prop is a bench to be used as a hospital bed, a dance floor, a coffin. This bleakness gives even more power to the message that Sheer and company deliver.
And the message is that after a war, there is no comfort, no solace, no peace. Just another battle, a different battle, seemingly, with no end. It is a hardcore piece of drama.
By Richard Lutz
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