“I promised the 323 people who died [in the Falklands War] that every time I told their story, I would do it to honour their deaths” – Ruben Otero, cast member and survivor of the General Belgrano sinking.
Commercial theatre seems to be undergoing a renaissance of decidedly contemporary political theatre. With the mega-theatre that is the National Theatre playing socially ground-breaking productions such as Les Blancs and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, it is not surprising that smaller venues have followed suit. The Royal Court Theatre, however, spearheads this movement towards political, urgent and new writing – and Lola Arias’s Minefield is its latest gem.
In collaboration with six veterans of the Falklands War, director Arias creates something in Minefield that is starkly truthful, surprisingly light and humorous at times, and most importantly, reconciliatory. Minefield is a cry of pain. It is the collection of individual pain, of individual grief, of individual memories. Yet the remarkable nature of this production is that these individual stories are not solitary; they are welded together through a camaraderie that transcends the walls that the war built between the English and Argentinians.
The cast of six, all of whom debut the stage with Minefield, are made up of Argentinian, English and one Nepalese veteran. They each describe their personal experiences and memories, addressing both the war and its devastating mental effects. Such form may result in a fragmentation, a discontinuity that alienates the audience. But Arias’s use of Brechtian techniques allows for a smooth production; for example, there is no ‘backstage’. All costume, props and set changes happen onstage in full view of the audience. There is complete exposure; there is no room to hide in this admirably brave and truthful account of war.
This is also reflected in the production’s film elements; as they tell their stories, cameras record and project close-ups of the veterans onto the stage’s backdrop screen. The audience become the intrigued and affected scientist, regarding the actors through a microscope which blows up the most minuscule of facial expressions and vocal inflections to fit the entire back wall of the stage. Yet it still retains an intimate experience due to the veterans’ most honest and sincere unmasking of their inner emotions. This allows them to, as mentioned in the post-show talk, see themselves from the outside, gazing upon their own life as another’s. This is perfectly illustrated when the close-up of veteran Lou Armour is projected alongside the recording of his interview twenty years prior, in which he tells the same story.
Apart from Arias’s distinctly experimental style, Minefield also benefits from its more light-hearted moments. With one-liners such as “to this day, I can shower, shit and shampoo in under three minutes” earning countless laughs from the audience, the full one hour and forty minutes of the play is absolutely engaging – not to mention the actors’ formation of their own band mid-show to perform their rendition of ‘Don’t You Want Me’. Beneath their seemingly carefree veneers, there is much more going on; the rock version of the song, paired with heavy drums, the red lighting, and the smoke machine make for an intense cry out. It is a purging, a release of the charged energy built up throughout the play.
Teetering on the edge of naturalism and experimentalism does not, at times, come to fruition. For example, the interviews with Margaret Thatcher and General Galtieri that use masks and authentic audio recordings become farcical and even awkward.
Yet this does not take away from the naked bravery of Minefield; having emerged both more informed and far more emotionally affected by the legacy of the Falklands War, the cast and creative team have struck a nerve embedded deep into the British and Argentinian psyche. It is a performance about the nature of performance, the nature of war, and the nature of man. It is a performance that shocks, soothes and is highly self-aware. It remembers; it releases; it reconciles.
Minefield is playing at the Royal Court Theatre until 11 June. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Court website. Photo: Tristram Kenton