'Minefield' at the Royal Court Shows Why We Should Make Theatre, Not War

05/06/2016 20:13 | Updated 05 June 2016
Tristram Kenton

I feel humbled in the theatre very regularly because I think it is like a church for people who want to spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about their feelings. But Minefield at the Royal Court humbled me in a way that is far more profound than just me being a soppy, introspective twat.

Because there are layers of meaning to this show that go beyond the words and the sounds and the images, but mean that they very act of it existing and being made is seismic.

Lola Arias has brought together real British and Argentinian veterans from the Falklands War, and created a piece that not only bears witness to their devastating experiences of a bloody, nasty, and contentious war, but enables us to see healing happen before our very eyes.

It's a pretty life-affirming piece of story-telling, which has been created as a part of Lift Festival, a month of boundary-pushing performance art. Arias uses video and music to help the men tell their stories, bringing in old pictures, speeches from Thatcher, and a drum-kit that takes a serious bashing.

But for how neat and compellingly watchable the whole thing is, the fact that the men stand united on these stages before us is the thing that genuinely made me think that there should be a new saying called 'Make Theatre Not War'.

Spoken in both Spanish and English, one of the first things the men talk about is how the syntax of war breaks down every language barrier. Although they were once enemies, the men are forever bound together by their time fighting in the Falklands, an island which is now 'a living museum for the war'.

Some of the things they speak about are hard to listen to - even harder to think that they could live through them and stand on a stage telling a room full of people about them. One man used his blanket to carry the body parts of his fellow soldiers, who had just been blown up by a mine. It was the only blanket he had, so he then continued to use it for the rest of the war. Another speaks of escaping from the Belgrano after it was hit and lying on a packed lifeboat for almost two days before being found; the anger that this callous attack still induces is palpable in the room.

One veteran says that he was asked to sign an affidavit when he arrived back to Argentina, demanding he wouldn't speak about what had happened. So the act of story-telling here not only becomes one of defiance, but a bold determination to confront the memories they had left behind.

At times it is too difficult. They comment frequently on the rehearsal process and the things they felt on travelling back to their memories of war; one scene felt too raw, too upsetting for them to perform. But the act of reflection is what has allowed them to reconnect with themselves and the world around them - one veteran became a psychologist after he came home with PTSD; another went through eight years of substance abuse before therapy helped him to confront the darkness the war had brought into his life.

One thing that British veteran Lou Amour said stuck in my head. Filmed as a 27-year-old man for a documentary, he spoke of holding a dying Argentinian soldier in his arms. It turned out he spoke English, and they started to talk about his memories of the country. "I wish he'd never spoken English," he said, and broke down into tears.

What a horrible thing; to be able to understand someone that you have been asked to kill. There lies the key to this extraordinary work: Minefield shows the potency of connection. The power of looking a man in the eye that you have been sent to kill, and realizing that you are both human beings, and that you could stand side by side instead.

Minefield is at the Royal Court until 11 June
Find out more about Lift Festival here