Minefield – The Royal Court, London

Writer and Director: Lola Arias
Reviewer: Deborah Parry

Most of us will only ever see war through the eyes of the media and not our own on the battlefield. There is something particularly powerful then about hearing first-hand accounts of veterans within a theatre – Minefield brilliantly utilises the medium for this purpose, reminding us that the political is personal.

The play, devised by six veterans in collaboration with Argentinian writer/director Lola Arias, effectively employs a combination of different storytelling techniques to communicate the experiences of the cast who all fought in the Falklands War (or Las Malvinas, as it is known as in Argentina). The Argentinian veterans do not speak English and the English do not speak Spanish, so screens are presented with the dialogue translated by way of subtitles – allowing experiences on both sides of the conflict to be communicated. This is one of the many reasons that Minefield is such a powerful experience; the bringing together of veterans who in 1982 were in battle and in 2016 are working collaboratively to create this moving and compelling piece of theatre.

In true Brechtian style – the fourth wall is broken from the outset and the cast speak directly to us – they briefly introduce themselves and photos are projected ona screen behind them of how they looked in 1982, when the war began. Most were very young when they joined the armed forces, full of optimism and patriotism; it is particularly moving when Lou tells us that he signed up to the Marines at age 16, when his mother died and as he left for the Falklands there was no one to see him off.

The play is divided into different chapters, which are titled on the projection screen and communicate various themes (such as waiting and war itself). Many accounts are upbeat at first, with stories of veterans cross-dressing by way of entertaining one another, and an account of how one man could ‘shit, shower and shave’ in under three minutes but then we move on to tales of conflict and the laughter dissipates into humble silence.

As to be expected, we are privy to stories about loss, guilt and the aftermath of war but never are preached at – there are only questions, thoughts, feelings but no huge political assertions. Speeches by Thatcher and Galtieri are performed in an interactive manner – with the original dialogue played and the cast donning masks to represent them on stage, which is clever and works extremely well on both a comical and slightly disturbing level (Spitting Image without the satire).

The storytelling is slick, direct and straightforward – there is a clarity and sharpness in terms of pace and dialogue that allow both theatricality and documentary-style. There is never a feeling of claustrophobia when listening to the accounts presented, no matter how dark – rather, there is enough distance that we are able to listen and still have the space to think.

As one of the cast tells us: ‘Some of the things that happened in the war were buried in the Falklands‘ and while we cannot (or should not) know all of them, Minefield manages, at least, to dig some up.

Runs until 10 June 2016 | Image: Tristram Kenton

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