The 1982 Falklands war was the last act of gung-ho British imperialism, a conflict against a corrupt and failing Argentine regime itself seeking its own quick route to regaining public popularity.
For Britain, it made the previously unpopular Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher unassailable, helping to unleas her neo-liberal revolution and attack on the state which some say has fatally undermined the social fabric of our society.
Not that these are the main reflections of Minefield. In many ways, this is an extraordinary piece of theatre. The cast of six consist of six actual war veterans, three each from the UK and Argentina.
Reunited in a theatre space rather than a battlefield 36 years on, and using films and photos projected onto a giant curved backdrop behind a wedge of staging, the six evoke the war with its often harrowing conditions and demands, but also the aftermath, what it has done to them and others, even down to its effect rehearsing and staging the play.
This is not the war of generals, politicians or famous figures, but the war writ in small detail and often more effective for that. Nor is it six men sat on chairs reflecting. Lola Arias (who writes and directs) invests it all with a fluid theatricality. As do the six actors, Lou Armour, David Jackson, Ruben Otero, Sukrim Rai, Gabriel Sagastume and Marcelo Vallejo.These six are credited with "creating and performing". The stage is always busy, the men’s words reinforced by visuals, movement, music. They even form a four-piece rock band in some sections.
Startling facts emerge; for the UK, suicides accounted for more deaths than did combat. UK troops were told their first landing could see one in three killed. Neither side clearly was in best position to fight a major conflict. Argentinian troops especially seemed dispirited and badly organised.
As if to emphasise the production’s two-nation philosophy, words are spoken by each side in their own language, projected in either English or Spanish surtitles (slightly small—I was forced to squint).
Two of the actors, wearing cartoonish rubbery masks, act out for the cameras extracts from Thatcher and Galtieri’s speeches, but overall this piece does not belong to the bigwigs.
It is great historical events put under a real microscope; not merely depersonalised case studies, but the participants stood before us, soldiers become actors, life and art becoming one. It is not just what war does to us in the moment of conflict but the longer term. These are not sleekly polished actors from RADA, but neither are they awkward amateurs. The production grants the six licence to speak to us with authenticity and sincerity.
But that’s not enough up on that stage. You also need professionalism. And they have developed that. So that we know they were actually there. But they are also able to involve us by using real theatre skills as well as sincerity.
Nor is the production po-faced. There’s humour, and we even get a quick blast from a Tony Hancock show.
Some parts don’t work. A transgender soldier for some reason acts out a striptease which serves no purpose. The piece is never quite sure when to finish and is maybe 10 minutes too long.
Having said which, the final song from the group’s rock band is titled "Have You Ever Been to War?". Its punchy, in-yer-face evocation of war’s stark reality from those who have experienced it to those who haven’t makes us shift slightly uneasily in our comfortable liberal seats.
Reviewer: Peter Mortimer