Sunday, 5 November 2017

Review Minefield


Minefield
Campo Minado
by Lola Arias
Translated by Daniel Tunnard

War, Huh, Yeah, What Is It Good For?
https://royalcourttheatre.com/

Before the outbreak of hostilities in 1982 TLT vaguely knew about the fight over Gibraltar between Britain and Spain. But the Falklands Islands and Argentina?

A "war" between a member of the European Economic Community and a South American country seemed scarcely believable to TLT in the late 20th century, knowing nothing of the islands' history.

The flag-waving, bellicose spirit that swept through public events and the media scared her. The deaths of men on both sides and the eventual uneasy conclusion puzzled her rather than made matters clearer. But life goes on.

Mounting a bilingual, verbatim play, with veterans from both sides, about what is known in the UK as The Falklands War, aka The Falklands Conflict, could have been, well, a minefield.

Indeed, Minefield, put together by Argentinian theatre-maker Lola Arias who also directs, allows the men, none of whom speak the language of the erstwhile opposing side, a voice.

They become actors, in all senses of the word, telling stories about their Falklands/Las Islas Malvinas experiences.

The cast is composed of two former Royal Marines,  a Gurkha, part of a regiment traditionally part of the British military, and an Argentinian trio: A factory worker and former conscript who rejoined voluntarily at the beginning of the conflict and two conscripts, a lawyer and a drummer in a Beatles' tribute band.

That is Lou Armour, David Jackson, Sukrim Rai and Marcelo Vallejo, Gabriel Sagastume and Rubén Otero who now look back to their younger selves.

The six relate the history of the war, as they see, saw and experienced it, on Mariana Tirantte's set that includes an enormous white screen for projections of videos, photos and magazine pages from the time and also their visit to the islands many years later.

Long-haired women's blonde and brunette wigs and feather boas hang on the mirror of a dressing table. Various other props, including a drumset, guitars and chairs, are on either side.

Surtitles translate English to Argentinian Spanish and vice versa.

So far, so matter of fact. And, in many ways, it remains so. There is necessarily a choice of what to exclude and include and, as far as is possible, Arias says she allowed the former soldiers editorial control over a now published script.

The words of each side never quite come together, but they have learned to accommodate each other as the discipline of theatre also make the six share a space.

This, of course, includes the Ghurka, part of the British Empire's legacy, whose right to British citizenship has only recently been acknowledged in an increasingly corporate world.  

There is humour, tragedy and an outlet for the grief, memories and anomalies which plague the conflict which, despite plenty of media coverage, still has an uncertain place in both nations' history.

The play also covers a generation where British pop music had been a common language in a United Nations, NATO and Cold War world.

The politicians, Margaret Thatcher and General Galtieri, are portrayed by full carnivalesque head masks with recordings of their voices from media footage.

Arias has a created a very flexible framework - however much or little an audience member may know or not know about the circumstances, he or she listens and notes the more theatrical set pieces and absorbs the words.

The sense comes from the non-sense and the relevance and irrelevance to the men's lives of the islands. An individual's reaction remains individual - both that of the actors, the ex-military, on the stage and the audience member.

For TLT, it still remains a conundrum how a generation linked by post-Second World War social insurance and a common commercial pop music culture could be coerced into killing each other.

There is a comradeship now between the men who have broken down the barriers they themselves put up against what must be called "the enemy". They are trying to come to terms with what has happened together, not isolated in separate TV interviews.

A wall has come down in parallel with the Berlin Wall and European and American occupying forces (which also played a part in the rise of The Beatles and other iconic pop groups).

Minefield also gives us a feel of a pre-Google, pre-digital camera and mobile phone which, nevertheless, is a precursor of the current global landscape. 

If there are gaps, they still satisfy as a human reaction to the violence of the fight and an incomprehensible space which can never be filled. It's a green light.

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