Royal Court Theatre Downstairs
It is now 35 years since the Falklands War or, if you come from Argentina, the battle to recover the Malvinas.
The semantics were important at the time as, for 74 days in 1982, young men from the two countries fought bravely over some islands in the South Atlantic that both countries claimed as their own based on quite possibly spurious historical connections in each case.
As a result, the politics were never particularly clear and this piece largely skirts around them. However, brief recordings of the martial rantings of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her counterpart General Galtieri suggest leaders in thrall to their own power, rather than necessarily making decisions for the benefit of their respective countries and peoples.
Instead of looking at the big picture, writer / director Lola Arias has worked with six veterans, three men in their 50s from each side, to compile a very personal series of testimonies about the war and its after effects on each of them, related in their native languages with appropriate surtitles.
While the middle-aged men on stage have little in common, they do share a desire to tell stories that demonstrate the pointlessness and horror of war, even if their lack of acting ability does little to help their collective cause.
On the British side are a pair of Devonians and a Gurka, none higher ranked than corporal. The Argentinians were all conscripted in what was effectively a lottery, their lucky tickets buying the young man a chance to risk their own lives and see friends die in a vain attempt to recover islands on their doorstep, at least when compared with the six-week boat ride from the UK.
The stories are sad and moving, told with honesty if not necessarily narrative skill, building a picture of ordinary lives put at risk in a war that the British squaddies fought out of duty rather than principle and the Argentinians because they had no choice, although their country seems to feel far more strongly about the islands than we ever have.
The tragedies of conflict are brought home graphically with events such as the sinking of an Argentinian warship the General Belgrano, one of whose sailors—a non-swimmer—is amongst the cast. However, most of the tales are on a smaller scale, making them even more personal.
Minefield, which lasts 90 minutes and accompanies the storytelling with videos, photos and occasional bouts of rock music, is a worthy attempt to highlight the inanity of warfare. In the long run, that should be regarded as its purpose so that the measure of the play’s value will be the extent to which it helps to persuade those in power across the globe to avoid future conflicts.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher