Minefield by Lola Arias at The Royal Court

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This was our first introduction to the work of Lola Arias. We could not squeeze it into our Brighton schedule so we were very excited to see it had transferred to the Royal Court in London as part of the Lift festival bringing international work to London. As a Brit who lived in Argentina for over a year, we have first hand experience of how differently the Falklands/Malvinas war (henceforth Malvinas, as the name is far nicer) of 1982 is perceived in each country. In Britain the conflict does not get a lot of airing, but it is an ever present topic of discussion in Argentina.

Performed by six veterans form either side of the conflict, this was a riveting encounter with the truth and the brutality of this unfortunate skirmish. Gabriel Sagastume, David Jackson, Sukrim Rai, Rubén Otero, Marcelo Vallejo and Lou Armour took us through their decisions to join the army, their first experiences, followed by their involvement in the conflict and the aftermath. My immediate sympathy was with the Argentineans, who as a result of national conscription, that only ended in 1995, were selected at random to be part of the invading Argentinian force.

All six veterans helped create the images and motifs of war through the use of multimedia, music, personal props and costumes throughout the piece. Water buckets, stamping in a box of gravel and vocal wind sounds were all used to create the barren landscape of the Malvinas.

These were not actors. These were former soldiers, now athletes, lawyers and psychiatrists. Only they know why they chose to be part of this. Maybe it was part of a process of understanding and maybe it was therapeutic. Maybe they just wanted to share their experiences with other men who had been there in 1982. No doubt such an exercise would be valuable for every soldier, and it is a shame that such opportunities are not available to all. The rehearsal process was referenced several times, in interesting ways, most notably in Marcello’s comments about the Gurkhas, saying if he ever had one in front of him he would like to “beat the crap out of him”. However, on meeting Sukrim in the flesh in Buenos Aires, he said he would rather buy him a beer.

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So much came out from this piece. Far too much to be able to put into a single review. The history of Rubén’s Beatles tribute band could be a play in itself. However on a very simple level, this was a brilliant example of how to talk about and engage people in history. Take something like this to schools and you will engage and interest children. They would learn much more from this than they ever could from a textbook. We do not learn about the Malvinas conflict in the UK. It is impossible to ignore it in Argentina. You learn the song, you learn that the land is connected under the sea, and you see t-shits and slogans claiming ‘Las Malvinas son Argentinas’ all over the streets and cities of Argentina. This play does not give any political arguments for and against the conflict. Like Tolstoy’s War and Peace it’s the individual and random experiences which describe the act of war.

One section particularly stood out. Like children in a playground the soldiers started hurling accusations of atrocities at the other side, before segueing into the misty history of the islands, comically informing us that we could learn more about the conflict by reading the English and Spanish Wikipedia articles. It is unimaginable that the Argentinians will give up their claim on the Malvinas and equally for the British simply to hand them over. The people on the island claim British rule and are happy that way. Maybe some Argentines could just move in and live peacefully alongside the British. There are plenty of Chileans there already.

If it exists, we look forward to reading the ‘La Peluca Pelirroja y El Paseador’ review of Campo Minado. But from our perspective this was brilliant piece of verbatim theatre and a very effective way to give a human voice to the stories of history. Well done to Lola Arias and all of those involved for this really important work.

Highlight of the piece – Rubén’s drum solo, shouting out phrases from his war, “1982, Margaret Thatcher, ARA General Belgrano”, whilst shredding the drums to pieces.

WIGS 4/5

Minefield has finished its run in England but you can catch it in at the National University of San Martin in Buenos Aires in November.

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