Minefield: a compassionate investigation into the power of resilience and peace
Lola Arias’ powerful piece of documentary theatre chronicling the lives of six Falklands/Malvinas war veterans is being performed at Manchester’s HOME as part of its ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American festival.
Minefield omits the middle man and tells its story using those actually involved in the 74-day battle for sovereignty over the cluster of islands off the coast of Argentina in 1982. Three Argentine veterans and three British, now in their late fifties, recount their memories with pulsing stamina using their bodies, voices, musical instruments, photographs and scribbled diary entries. The result is a compassionate investigation into the power of resilience and peace, as well as a spellbinding dissection of theatre’s ability to educate.
Initially we learn of who these men are now — a counsellor, a teacher, a security guard, a criminal lawyer, an athlete and a member of a Beatles tribute band. They have all taken starkly different paths and were once divided by their cultural origins, yet are united on stage by their shared encounter with war. The audience are taken from training camps to trenches, homes to hospitals, the external to the internal. Profound and personal horrors are met with the audacious patriotism of Thatcher and Galtieri, the figureheads of the opposing sides whose comically satirical cameos highlight just how out of touch the political systems were with those on the front line. These were men who were vastly more similar than they knew, taught to hate each other for the sake of their flags. Once callous and tense disagreements over titles and ownership of the islands is reduced to playful anecdotes, rejoicing in the frivolity of it all. Difficult issues of grief, guilt, addiction, PTSD and suicide are dealt with tenderly and honestly and do well to balance out the vivacious wit and humour underpinning the drama. Moreover these are men, talking openly and frankly about their mental health, which is as powerful and important a spectacle as any other the play has to offer. Hearing their often strained and weathered voices, not tampered and refined by vocal training at drama school, kept the play astutely authentic and alive.
Lola Arias continues many of her trade mark design concepts in Minefield to stunning effect. The cast perform against a white backdrop which intermittently beams colours, text, letters and videos, creating a visual landscape that is difficult to take your eyes off. The costume and careful positioning of the men combined with the visuals creates such impressive tableaus that each could stand alone as works of art. The men are intrinsically involved in creating the images on stage, visibly turning newspapers, creating model villages and sifting through photographs under on stage projectors. At one point the men reenact a therapy session between an Argentine and a Brit, with two of the men filming their faces in close up, which is beamed in split screen behind them. The cast are never swamped or overshadowed by the blistering imagery but rather complimented by it; it seems to immortalise their stories and celebrate the everyday ordinariness of their characters.
The play is highly educational, with gasps at certain points flittering through the audience, implying that there are parts of the conflict that had not previously reached their understanding. As one of the men matter of factly pointed out ‘this was not a war you learned about in school’. Perhaps I am glad that I have received my Falklands/Malvinas education through Minefield; a fair depiction of war not warped by the patriotic bias that filters down from governments to classrooms. These are men baring all on stage to stress the importance of forgiveness and friendship in the face of violence. Lou Armour, now a teacher, as the front man of a rock n’ roll band performing an unapologetically vulnerable song screaming ‘Have you ever seen a man die! Have you ever seen a man set on fire!’ was a gut wrenchingly emotional conclusion to the play. Minefield leaves you gasping, inspired and full of hope. This is political theatre at its best.
HOME’s Viva festival is on till the 5th May.