Minefield

Have you killed anyone? What does it take to pull the trigger? What happens after?

Minefield, from LIFT and performed at HOME as part of the ¡Viva! Spanish/Latin American Festival explores the effect of the Falklands War/Guerra del Atlántico Sur on three British and three Argentine soldiers. Wars live long in our memories. I visited Ushuaia in Southern Argentina in 2013 and the anti English sentiment was still strong. This was the port from where the General Belgrano sailed in 1982. Many of the drowned sailors were the sons of local people.

Are these soldiers and sailors pawns in national war machines, simply following orders? Do they have personal agendas. Or is it a tragic mix of both? On Radio 4 last weekend an infantry officer who served in Northern Ireland turned priest talked about how ‘I didn’t realise at the time how traumatic it was and the impact it would have on me’ and ‘I never had the opportunity to do what I was trained to do … for well over a decade, my biggest regret was that I hadn’t killed anybody’.

What is so compelling about this production is that the six performers on stage were, in their own lives, living with the very real consequences of war. There is an openness that is overwhelming, even when that openness is to acknowledge a pretence, a coping mechanism. It is impossible not to be moved by Marcelo’s account, during a reconstruction of a session with a psychologist, of his struggle to return to normality after the war ended, the lack of opportunities and support. The power is in the honesty, with noone pretending to be anything more than men that have been through an experience that few of us can really comprehend, and were trying to address the consequences in the only way they knew how. The bravery is how they deal with the horror, not on the field of battle.

This production is surprisingly quiet and reflective. There is little in the way of gunfire or bombs. It’s not about the battles, it’s about what’s happening inside the heads of the men who fought. And it’s about the imbalance of two sides fighting for their countries. The professionally trained, well equipped British against the poorly trained and poorly equipped Argentine army. ‘I only wanted to stay alive and write letters [to my girlfriend]’ says one. But in any war one side will always have a technical advantage. The theatre within this production could apply to any war. This could be Risk, with the attacker holding a ten to two advantage; are lives counted on the roll of a dice? There is indeed a moving scene with plastic toy soldiers; are these people even real to us?

Overall, I thought this was one of the most original, organic and authentic plays I’ve ever seen. You can tell the story came from the actors, and see how difficult the devising/rehearsal process must have been. But it’s also incredibly powerful and fulfilling to watch, knowing exactly what the process of making this piece of theatre must have meant to the six people. And every night they have to relive the hatred and the forgiveness, which is very real. And let’s not forget that none of the cast are professional actors, although there are some good musicians in here!

And there are so many fine touches in Lola Arias’ writing and direction. The actors donning Thatcher and Galtieri masks to recreate key speeches. The paradox of hating everything English but belting out the Beatles. Actors speaking in their native tongues (with translation) to highlight the confusion and lack of understanding. The use of propaganda, which may or may not be true including Argentine death flights and Gurkha knife rituals. The sheer futility of death on the battlefield. And ultimately the question of who do we send to fight our battles and our wars?

For me, and my daughter who also watched this, one of the most remarkable and memorable theatre performances at HOME.

Links to HOME here and ¡Viva! here.

Production photo by Tristram Kenton. Ushuaia photo by me.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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