FringeReview UK 2017
Lola Arias’ extraordinary Minefield returns to the Royal Court after an international run for just ten performances, written and directed by her. Maureen Tirantte’s spectacular, flexible set and the inclusion of a drum-kit and band gear on wheels the participants perform on. Roberto Pellegrino and Ernesto Fara make much of Ulises Conti’s music, bomb blasts, band blasts and voiceovers.
David Seldes’ lighting encompasses everything from a ship nightclub through haunted solitary moments to the Belgrano’s final moments. Tirantte’s ensured not only masks but Martin Borini’s videos create a fluid backdrop. Till November 11th. Then touring, returning to Brighton’s Attenborough Centre in March 2018.
Lola Arias’ extraordinary Minefield returns to the Royal Court after an international run for just ten performances, written and directed by her. Unsurprisingly given this work’s deserved reputation, it was packed. Supported by LIFT, the British Council (after hesitation) and other organisations, this isn’t a piece about the totality of the Falklands War, still less any argument. It’s refracted through the six combatants on stage who actually saw service and in their mid-to-late-fifties have worked with Arias to craft – almost excavate – a ringing witness to their shared past. Men who were intent on killing each other now hug.
Arias is famed for these tender depth-charges, for instance The Year That I Was Born, which was 1976, a pivotal year when the Argentine Junta began its seven-year terror: but here examining those born into Pinochet’s Chile instead. The lives of women born around then were self-examined – it’s a collaborative process – and devastating facts emerged they knew nothing of, a father not dead but in jail, and much else. It’s how Arias works, ordinary people front and centre as she puts it, dictate their lives, keep diaries, work and reflect on the theatrical process; and she hands them back her versions for further looping.
This is infinitely more than verbatim theatre, the arc of development reflected in Maureen Tirantte’s spectacular, flexible set and the inclusion of a drum-kit and band gear on wheels the participants perform on. Roberto Pellegrino and Ernesto Fara make much of Ulises Conti’s music, bomb blasts, band blasts and voiceovers.
David Seldes’ lighting encompasses everything from a ship nightclub through haunted solitary moments to the Belgrano’s final moments – Ruben Otero’s brief war ended with his survival where 323 crew perished, half of the total Argentinean losses. It’s one of those calamities many on both sides agree was a disastrous choice by the unusually aggressive Admiral Sandy Woodward. But there are still voices of support here. That’s the point.
Tirantte’s ensured not only masks but Martin Borini’s videos create a fluid backdrop where projection allows the construction of a toy farm and river for one of the final sets, a deceptive calm for the unfolding narrative and indeed the work’s title: a minefield laid by the Argentines themselves but not flagged yup to their own side. More intimate still, letters, original magazines stored by a combatant’s father, and small personal objects to vie with grainy footage of the time.
Others like the decayed poncho heavy mortar-bomber Marcelo Vallejo rediscovers, create some of the most haunting images – particularly the act of donning a ghost of yourself. Vallejo was looking for some hidden letters, though found almost everything else of his time in rain-drenched conditions. This is the same iron man who’s recovered from drug abuse consequent on his experiences. Unusually for a conscript he’d wanted to be a soldier and volunteered.
Despite universal praise, Minefield’s had a bigger impact in the UK than Arias’ previous work, and the Royal Court’s a second homecoming not just for Minefield but Arias herself, having undertaken a writers’ residency there in her twenties. Here, the three British and three Argentineans recount a history that packs a vast amount of the seventy-four day conflict in – and the process as they remind us took longer than the war – but doesn’t include what they didn’t experience. So few of the pitched battles like Goose Green feature, though much else does.
The eloquent Lou Armour, for instance, was part of the Marine detachment captured by the argentines at the start on April 2nd, but returned to see much fighting. He initially feared he and his comrades would be thrown out of an aircraft, like the Disappeared. Instead they were deposited at a Uruguayan hotel where being asked to sign for their drinks by the British consul they wrote ‘Margaret Thatcher’ every time.
Margaret Thatcher and General Galtieri appear too, their enlarged puppets heads topping two of he combatants as they mime words from the leaders’ like a literal head-to-head. David Jackson segues from Maggie Thatcher’s blue dress to a strip-off for the boys on the outward-bound ship’s nightclub, an unexpected, breathtaking moment. Jackson – whose intelligent unpicking of truths and memories is a key feature – became a psychologist; in a scene with Vallejo he talks him through his anger. This leads to Vallejo’s confrontation with the men he’d vowed to kill should he meet one: Ghurkha Sukrim Rai, who far from decapitating Argentineans used his kukri to secure surrender and indeed save lives. It’s Rai’s writing that furnishes an unexpected coda.
Gabriel Sagastrume, retired criminal lawyer and mediocre soldier is he admits now obsessed with the war. It’s often the Argentineans who look for vanished artefacts having been whisked off the island, whereas the British bring – apart from Marine passing-out photographs – the diaries of their recent workings, and the effects too. Vallejo’s traumas are recounted. Armour’s are visible when his younger self is suddenly projected in a 1985 documentary whilst he was still serving, breaking down over the death of an Argentinean officer who was talking to him in English. The older Armour looks on and in a palimpsest of emotion, recounts what this means now.
Armour became an educationalist of special needs. Often the conflict accelerated as well as diverted, and certainly ha elft a lifelong mark. Arias’ patient unskeining and editing is laid bare; she too is a participant. Sometimes someone like Jackson demands a cut song be reinstated and starts singing his own song ‘Soldier, Soldier’ at an early stage where everyone testily asserts a small centre ground of their own. What’s remarkable isn’t even the way the six have become seasoned, precise performers of their own traumas, but the way the process has brought something new. Otero formed a Beatles Tribute Band Get Back performing at Liverpool but at the time not mentioning hi war. It preludes the final explosive scenes, first a tsty set of assertions each of them make to the other. Then the band led by Armour throwing everything back at the audience ‘Have you ever been to war?’ Some haven’t liked it, but this raw explosive question is as necessary as it’s uneasily thrilling.
This is for its unique and singularly consummate exploration of its themes, outstanding, in a class apart from any show you’ll see, perhaps even of Arias. Her work must be acknowledged here now.