LIFT Festival presents MINEFIELD by Lola Arias: Theatre Review

One of the many astounding things about Lola Arias’ Minefield is that the rehearsal process for the project lasted far longer than the Falklands conflict itself, which ended after 74 days. The process of building Minefield, or Campo Minado in Spanish, has taken Arias and her team of veterans, researchers and designers in essence of two years. And I must say, the hard work has more than paid off.

Minefield is a remarkable example of theatre as a redemptive power and theatre has a humanising force. It crosses battlelines to make brothers out of enemies and teaches us that, in war, there is never really a winning side. 8000 miles away from where they made first bloody contact, Britain and Argentina unite together onstage at the Royal Court in a brave excavation of memory and the personal impact of the Falklands / Malvinas War on its soldiers; the wounds visible, but healing.

The cast - Lou Armour, David Jackson, Sukrim Rai, Ruben Otero, Gabriel Sagastume and Marcelo Vallejo - are traditionally “non-performers”; Vallejo had never even been to the theatre before this project began. But Arias makes an extremely valid point about their professional credibility in the post-show talk. She doesn’t agree with calling them “non-professionals”, for if remembering lines, playing live instruments and manning camera equipment isn’t regarded as professional, she doesn’t know what is. They are beyond performers: they were there, they lived it and are living it again now.

Combining documentary, testimony and reconstruction with an inspired use of technology, ear-splitting rock music and other such playful tricks, Arias’ production ignites every sense and emotion. As the six men, three from each side, relive the various stages of their time at war and its aftermath, the audience reads along using the English and Spanish surtitles provided. The effect this has on the audience’s reactions is really interesting; staggering their laughter and shock depending on which vernacular a particular joke or anecdote is told in. I have rarely seen a more diverse audience in all my years of theatre-going; a sea of myriad languages where war veterans sit shoulder-to-shoulder with civilians they once fought to protect, whilst arts aficionados sidle past non-theatre-goers to reach their seats. In the post-show discussion, Arias cites the ability of the arts in bringing together people from different fields, and she’s spot-on – for it has happened amongst her cast members! Rai, a previously formidable Gurkha, gushes about how much he loves his former enemies. Vallejo said Armour felt like a brother the minute he hugged him during a difficult rehearsal. As a British veteran in the audience rightly pointed out, this is the power of reconciliation.

In the show’s text, the Falkland Islands are described as a “living museum”, a very apt way of also describing Minefield. The “living” part comes from the personal stories of the veterans steeped in barbed truth and rawness, as they are transported back to such events as the sinking of ARA General Belgrano, in which half of all Argentine fatalities from the war were killed. “Living” also pertains to the veterans’ post-war resilience and their courage in returning back to the Falklands, both physically and in memory. Though not strictly a history lesson, it is a “museum” because it exhibits accounts and artefacts of vast historical and cultural value. We are told that British children don’t learn about the Falklands War in school – perhaps there is a future for Minefield as a theatre-in-education piece?

There are several heart-in-mouth moments in Minefield; from the revelation that many Argentine soldiers were conscripted for the Malvinas and effectively did not have a choice about laying their lives down, to the ‘therapy session’ in which Jackson (a practicing psychologist) and Vallejo face each other to discuss their pained pasts involving substance abuse, depression, PTSD and even a suicide attempt. It is a project that can’t help but move you, whether you were there or not. To paraphrase Armour’s post-show comments: it’s a beautiful project but war is awful, so it is important to show the audience something good about humanity. And it does.

© Hannah Roe, 2016

 

MINEFIELD

Written and directed by Lola Arias for LIFT 2016

Playing at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs

Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London, SW1W 8AS

Closes 11th June

 

Weekday and Saturday evenings at 7.30pm

In English and Spanish with surtitles

Age guidance: 14+

Tickets: £16, £20, £25 (all Monday seats £10 available from 9am on day of performance)

Access: £12 (plus a companion at the same rate, ID required, subject to availability)

Running time: 1hr 40mins, no interval

 

http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/minefield

 

Cast: Lou Armour, David Jackson, Sukrim Rai, Ruben Otero, Gabriel Sagastume, Marcelo Vallejo

Research & Production: Sofia Medici, Luz Algranti

Set Designer: Mariana Tirantte

Composer: Ulises Conti

Lighting Designer: David Seldes

Video Designer: Martin Borini

Sound Engineer: Roberto Pellegrino

Assistant: Erika Telchert

Technical Assistant: Imanol Lopez

Production Assistant: Lucila Piffer

UK Research Assistant: Kate O’Connor

Costumes: Andrea Piffer

Costumes Assistant: Federico Castellon Arrietta

UK Producer: Erica Campayne

UK Production Managers: Jim Mitchell (LIFT), Matt Noddings & Marius Ronning (Royal Court)

 

Author's review: 
5