Falkland Sound

Brad Birch
Royal Shakespeare Company
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

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Joanne Howarth (Mrs Hargreaves), Eduardo Arcelus (Gabriel) and Oliver Hembrough (Geoff) Credit: Ellie Kurttz © RSC
Joanne Howarth (Mrs Thatcher) Credit: Ellie Kurttz © RSC
Lauren Patel (Sally), Joe Usher (Robbie), Simon Rivers (Edwin), Anyebe Godwin (Jacob) and Sarah Moyle (Mary) Credit: Ellie Kurttz © RSC
Tom Milligan (Two), Avita Jay (Three) and Alvaro Flores (One) Credit: Ellie Kurttz © RSC
Sandy Foster (Rosie) and Oliver Hembrough (Geoff) Credit: Ellie Kurttz © RSC
Joanne Howarth (Mrs Hargreaves) Credit: Ellie Kurttz © RSC

1 April 1982, and it’s an ordinary day like any other: a lie-in until 6:30AM, chickens to feed, tea-bags to buy and scrambled penguin eggs for breakfast. So yes, a very ordinary day. Except that it wasn’t.

It was when Argentina invaded the Falklands and what life was like for the islanders for the next 74 days, no-one back in the UK really knew, for there was no film footage until the liberation of Stanley. Brad Birch’s play fills that gap splendidly.

This sounds and feels like the authentic voice of the Falklanders, people like us, not heroic but with their infidelities, suspicion, affections, bloody mindedness, solidarity, resolution and eccentricity, aka Britishness. One of the islands’ Dad’s Army volunteers, we learn, turned up armed with a cricket bat, and the ousted governor departed in ostrich-feathered full regalia. As teacher John (Tom Milligan) puts it, "Britain is not just a place, it’s an idea."

The play is rich in character, the odd odd-job man (Oliver Hembrough), the old-batty but lovable Mrs Hargreaves (Joanne Howarth), the unfaithful wife (Avita Jay). Simon Rivers, Anyebe Godwin, Sarah Moyle and Sandy Foster all bring out the distinctiveness of a broad range of personalities.

And the text, sharpened in the rehearsal room by director Aaron Parsons and dramaturg Rejane Collard-Walker, has a bouncy urgency that rattles along, even if some details of the way of life in this little England have been lost in the process.

Sally (Lauren Patel) is torn between a desire to leave her barren, moon-like homeland for college in England and an affection for those that would be left behind after the war.

That conflict of loyalty is most forcefully expressed in the character of Eduardo Arcelus’s liberal-minded Argentinian scientist, who has been working on the Falklands for a year and who encounters his one-time friend, Sebastian (Alvaro Flores), now a junta supporter and commander of the invading forces.

As British troops gradually take back control, many of the poorly-supplied Argentinian troops starve or freeze to death, it is reported. Rookie soldier Robbie (Joe Usher) experiences the numbness of having killed a man, but within a few days has seen so many corpses that he brushes aside a request to recover the dead body of one of the Falklanders’ own.

Mrs Thatcher pops up after the liberation to make a triumphalist speech, an effective counterpoint of old-style imperialism against the everyday experiences, so effectively represented, of those she has fought to protect.

The only ill-judged episodes are earlier scenes back in the UK, playing up the hysterical jingoism, that feel out of keeping with the nuanced sensitivity of the rest of the play.

But it’s not essentially a play about the politics, nor much about the conduct of the war, as about the people on the ground. We hear too little about them, but 40 years on, Brad Birch speaks eloquently on their behalf.

Reviewer: Colin Davison

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