Saturday, 4 June 2016

Review: Minefield, LIFT 2016 at the Royal Court

"Somehow we understood each other"

Bringing together veterans from both the Argentine and British sides, Lola Arias' Minefield is a piercingly potent exploration of the 1982 Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas conflict. Now in their 50s, these six men - Lou Armour, David Jackson, Rubén Otero, Sukrim Rai, Gabriel Sagastume and Marcelo Vallejo - have worked with Arias to create a fascinating collage that blends fiction with fact, a documentary realness enhanced by a little dramatic flair.

As such, Minefield doesn't seek to retell the political narrative of this war, but rather reframe it in our minds as a collection of personal experiences, further refracted through the prism of theatremaking. This is apparent from the beginning, as each man reenacts their audition process live to camera, which is played out on Mariana Tirantte's striking cuboid set (video work by Martín Borini), their gentle humour soon giving way to recollections about their lives as military men. 

Played in English and Spanish, with each section surtitled in the other language, we find ourselves invited into the sharing of something that often feels deeply private. The brutal emotional impact of battlefield reality, the psychological scars left behind no matter if on the 'winning' or 'losing' side, the true hollowness of political rhetoric performed through a series of devices like therapy sessions, chat-show segments, Spitting Image masks and raw musical outbursts.

The format may seem a little distancing but it works supremely well to maintain a crucial emotional clarity to Minefield. It would have been easy, too easy, to resort to lachrymose manipulation as the men recount the horrors of war, so the analytical approach here allows a more clear-sighted route into what we're hearing. It doesn't make it any less horrific - fleeing a sinking battleship, burying bodies, identifying blown-up limbs of comrades - but it offers a way to process it, as much for the PTSD-afflicted of the soldiers as much as the audience. The blistering musical accompaniment further builds a bond, allowing a sharing that overcomes the linguistic difficulties.

I found it fascinating to hear about the contrasting societal approaches to the military in both countries too, the pride of British families coming to watch their sons pass out versus the comparative indifference of Argentinian families where military service was compulsory until 1995. And the deep compassion that emerges from all six of these veterans, in the face of a sometimes shameful lack of post-war support - whether the gagging of Argentine soldiers in the aftermath of defeat or the British government's denial of citizenship to the Gurkhas they'd happily been sending out to war for nearly a century - makes Minefield a superb exploration of what we truly ask of our armed forces.

Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Tristram Kenton
Booking until 11th June

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