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Review: Three boys go to war in Pink Mist, Bush Theatre

Phil Dunster in Pink Mist at Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Mark Douet.JPGPhil Dunster in Pink Mist at Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Mark Douet

It is curious that Owen Sheers has chosen to have three boys going to war in Pink Mist. His play is a contemporary story of the psychological and physical impact of being a British soldier in the Afghan war but coupled with his poetic writing style it has a fairytale quality albeit more in the vein of Grimm rather than Disney.

Three boys, three teenage friends from Bristol set off to make something of their lives; they could be three little pigs, three billy goats gruff or three bears going into the woods. There is Taff (Peter Edwards) who is a (very) young Dad and can't support his family, Hads (Alex Stedman) who is doing minimum-wage shop work and the narrator of the piece, Arthur (Phil Dunster), who is the first to sign up.  Arthur parks cars for a living and feels like he is going nowhere.

Their youth and naivete is ripe to be exploited by army recruiters. It wasn't so long ago they were playing war games in the school playground (the cry of 'Lets play war!' becomes a trope) but stuck in dead end jobs their mundane lives mapped out, playing war for real feels like an adventure they can't turn down and of course the money is better. Only their wife/family/girlfriend see the danger but they don't heed the warnings.

The cast of Pink Mist at Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Mark Douet (Custom).JPGThe cast of Pink Mist at Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Mark Douet

Simply staged, Arthur tells each boy's story in turn, the only props are a wooden bench and a wheelchair - the latter the equivalent of a gun on the table. This isn't a pretty story. If you don't know to what pink mist refers you will find out and it is isn't beautiful except perhaps in a deeply macabre sense. It is a play of harsh, grim poetry and where words perhaps fail the cast use movement to show you. In fact the movement is imaginatively devised to great effect and Phil Dunster carries the play brilliantly as the primary storyteller, right up to its moving ending.

There have been a handful of films and plays in recent years that have looked at modern conflict from the soldiers perspective and there isn't anything particularly new or revelatory in Pink Mist but it is a well-executed, thoughtfully conceived and solid piece of theatre so I'm giving it four stars. It runs at the Bush Theatre until February 13 and is two hours including an interval.  It is well worth a look.

Pink Mist is a Bristol Old Vic production and was first performed there last year. The production returns to Bristol from February 16 to March 5.