The scars of war
Pink Mist explores the difficulties of returning to civilian life after serving in a combat zone. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad spoke to writer Owen Sheers.
Owen Sheers takes his responsibilities as an artist seriously.
The writer, who has been called ‘the war poet of his generation’, carries a heavy burden on his shoulders with his latest play.
Pink Mist, which comes to West Yorkshire Playhouse next week, tells the story of soldiers and their often difficult return to life as a civilian.
Born out of a previous project in which he interviewed 30 wounded service personnel, Pink Mist brings their stories to the stage, giving a voice to those who are often voiceless. The Two Worlds of Charlie F was premiered at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2012. For the play Sheers interviewed 30 former soldiers who returned wounded from conflict.
“It shouldn’t have worked, but it did. The MoD told us we wouldn’t find anyone who wanted to talk to us, but lots of soldiers wanted to tell their stories. We then had 20 of the soldiers in the cast when we staged the play,” he says.
The reason for the play to exist was not just as a piece of theatre, but as a piece of work that would heal soldiers who had been through horrific experiences.
“The statistic that is often quoted about this issue is that the average amount of time before a veteran of the Falklands war sought help was 14 years. The idea of this project was to get people early to tackle those concentric circles of damage which can result in the aftermath of conflict that spreads through the children, families and communities of soldiers.”
Having staged this play to great acclaim, Sheers found he had a wealth of material that he wanted to not just leave to one side in a file. “I still had all this material, particularly the things I had heard from the wives and families of the soldiers I spoke to, that I felt should have a further life,” he says.
“As a writer, an artist, I wanted to return to the stories with more artistic latitude and I wanted to bring poetry to bear on the subject. The opportunity came when BBC Bristol approached me about writing a five-part drama in which they wanted to use poetry, so I wrote a verse drama set in Bristol.”
The broadcast was successful, but Sheers still felt the story deserved a longer life and the stage production was born.
“I always wanted the longer legacy to be on stage and that goes back to the original project on stage, which is where this all began,” he says. “It’s also because I know there is something visceral, almost atavistic about the theatrical experience and that communication between a cast and the audience. I’ve always felt that poetry in theatre has the potential to make something more accessible, not less, and this has proved that you’re communicating on the subterranean level of rhythm, which has a huge impact.”
That the play is coming to
Leeds and touring the country is another important part of the story for Sheers. “The story of soldiers returning home wounded is a subject that very much resonates in our regional towns and cities because that’s where we recruit our soldiers from, often in fact from the poorer parts of the country. When it comes to narratives regarding war, there is an anonymising of soldiers. They stop being people and just become ‘soldiers’. This play sets out to relate their stories and, most importantly, to humanise them.”
PinkMist , West Yorkshire Playhouse, March 28 to April 1. 0113 2137700.
SOLDIER: Pink Mist is at West Yorkshire Playhouse next week.