Alexander Cohen interrogates the poetry of First Theatre Company’s ‘Pink Mist’.
Peter Brook once wrote that modern verse plays are often “wishy-washy and obscure.” Pink Mist is neither of these things. Ella Burton and Tom Shaw’s directorial debut with First Theatre Company is a focused and valiant attempt to dive into the psyche of those not only fighting in modern warfare, but also those around them.
None of the performers set out to convince the audience that their stories are real, for this play is not naturalistic in any sense. Instead they invite the audience to imagine the real-life horror and hardship of war through subtly and nuance. Danny Parker must be applauded for his flawless performance as Arthur. Not only was his understanding of the themes without fault, but his grasp on the rhythm and emotion in the language meant that the audience were hooked on each word and image: from the cold Bristol night to the suffocating heat of Afghanistan. The audience had no doubt that Arthur was friendly and brave, yet as the play progressed, deeply troubled and anguished as he and his friends bear witness to death and life changing injury. He found the authenticity that some of the other actors missed out on capturing.
The minimal stage and technical aspects drew all attention to the cast’s performances allowing for the audiences’ imagination to blossom. This was aided by simple but constrictive lighting decisions: pink to represent the safety of the club, soft yellow to covey the arid battlefields of Afghanistan. Fergus McShane, the technical director, should be proud of his achievement.
The play is not only about the male soldiers, but indeed the family and partners who are impacted by war: special mention must go to Ariana Van Biljon’s monologue where she recounts a “blue on blue” incident. With only a humble spotlight illuminating her, she masterfully conveyed the distress that women often face when dealing with partners suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other afflictions. Unfortunately, some technical decisions were confusing: the multiple blackouts in between episodes felt tedious and unimaginative. They sometimes resulted in the audience losing their attention meaning performers had to work hard to regain the focus that was deserved.
Whilst the language was always beautifully conveyed, more could have been done to aid the audiences’ understanding through physical performances. The script is craving for heightened physicality which was delivered in the first segment, where the gritty yet hopeful atmosphere was beautifully introduced through direction that saw the actors mirror the fluid language through movement. Sadly, this was a unique sequence. There were often occasions where background actors were inert and would stand awkwardly upstage waiting for their moment to speak. This made for some rare moments, where performers were unable to grip the audience, unstimulating.
All in all, Tom Shaw and Ella Burton’s Pink Mist is alluring due to multiple strong performances from both main and supporting characters. However, the lack of creativity when it comes to physicality means that Pink Mist just misses out on being an exceptional piece of theatre.
Pink Mist will be playing in the City Theatre at 7:30pm on Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd February.