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.

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - 4/STAGE -

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.

PIC­TURE: MARK DOUET

SOL­DIER: Pink Mist is at West York­shire Play­house next week.

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