Daniel Nelson

It’s amazing that

Minefield

Minefield

Image by Royal Court Theatre

Minefield ever made it onto the Royal Court stage, and didn’t fall apart in rehearsal.

The performers are six veterans of the Falklands/Malvinas war – three Argentinians and three Brits, who don’t speak each other’s language and who still differ on ownership of the disputed islands. Every sentence, every, phrase, every word had to be negotiated, through arguments and tears.

“There were a lot of moments in the rehearsals when I though it wouldn’t be possible,” director Lola Arias admitted in a post-show Q&A.

One scene recalls British soldiers taking prisoners and throwing the Argentinian helmets to the ground.

“When I heard that sound in the rehearsal,” Marcelo Vallejo told the Q&A, “I felt as upset and isolated as I felt in the war and I started crying.

“Lou [one of the British soldier-performers] came and hugged me. I felt we were brothers. The experience will stay with me forever.”

Vallejo was a conscript soldier who fought as an artilleryman. When he returned to Argentina he had lost his job. Later he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and spent four months in a psychiatric hospital.

Now an Iron Man athlete, he admits to amazement at being on stage: until this production he had never been to the theatre.

He also remembers the Argentinian rumours about the ferocity and bestiality of the Gurkhas. A real Gurkha, Sukrim Rai, is on stage to recall how he captured a group of prisoners instead of shooting them and how later he met one of his former captives who thanked Rai for saving his life. (“Don’t fight, don’t fight. Fighting is not good,” Rai tells the Q&A. “Twenty-four years ago I was looking to kill them, and they were looking to kill me. That’s why I love this project very much. I love it.”)

Arias, who is well-known in Argentinian theatre, has done an extraordinary job in holding this fissile material together and weaving a moving, funny, dramatic, playful, insightful series of episodes out of the men’s different experiences and perceptions: “War doesn’t interest me, post-war interests me. What matters to me is what happens to a person who went through that experience.”

Their anecdotes range from the arbitrariness of how they became involved in the war and of battle (one man tells how a fellow soldier was killed in a minefield laid by his own army which had neglected to warn them of its existence), and about their training (“I can still shit, shave and shampoo in under three minutes”), their feelings, their memories of combat and of demobilisation (“When I got home and hugged my mum, she seemed much smaller”) as well as their post-war lives – as a lawyer, a therapist, an academic with a PhD in the philosophy of colour. One of the men is in an award-winning Beatles tribute band – and he’s Argentinian.

This is a brilliant show, on many levels – and for the six ex-combatants it’s a personal triumph – and, yes, there plans to perform it in Buenos Aires in November. But Arias sounds a note of caution. When audience members showered it with praise (“It’s about reconciliation and you did something absolutely brilliant)” she commented:

“The hardest part of this experiment was agreeing what we wanted to say – which doesn’t mean we agree.

“We share feelings because we make a play together, but there is conflict inside this group and in the two countries.”

Even with the dollops of heart-melting honesty and empathy on stage, the Atlantic islands are still a bone of contention.

* Minefield is at the Royal Court, Sloane Square, SW1, until 11 November. Info: 7565 5000/ https://royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/minefield/. Info: 7565 5000/ http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/

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