Minefield felt oddly close to my heart, and yet very distant for me. Like the events it talks about are something I remember from a dream. I’ve sort of bashed this out, and I don’t think I’ve done the show justice, because I don’t have the adjectives to do so. But I tried anyway.
The dominating thought I had throughout Minefield was of my granddad, who was stationed in the Falklands following the war to ‘keep the peace’. I occasionally think, too, of my uncle Phillip, a veteran of the same war. As I was watching it, I wished my dad was sitting and watching it with me. It’s a rare thought for me in a theatre, but my dad served in the army when he was younger and the military runs in the blood of his family, and it certainly felt like this show was for him. And for my Grandad and uncle, too.
Minefield is stunning. It completely shatters you by being just so very, very human. It is performed by six veterans of the Falklands War; 3 Argentinians, 2 Englishmen and a Gurkha who fought for the British Army. Each have brought their own memories, artifacts and scars to the show, which have been shaped by Lola Arias into a seering half-Spanish-half-English slice to the soul.
It is sort-of-documentary theatre, but self-aware about its representation and mis-remembering of the past. The six veterans operate cameras and present models. They blow into mics and paddle in shallow bowls to create the soundscape. Everything in this show is from them, because to use effects created by other people would mean that other people’s influence would creep into their stories. Other people cannot tell this story, because only those who have lived through it seem to have the right to decide how to share it.
What is most glorious is that it is so honest, and in being so doesn’t shamelessly tug on your heartstrings. There’s that moment in some movies where the sad piano music swells and you feel conscious that you should feel sad now. Not so, with Minefield. These are just people who have a shared history of something unimaginable, and the heartbreak is born from learning about them, laughing with them, seeing just how something horrible both breaks and recreates someone. The sadness is so much more than sadness, too – it is visceral in its rage at times, but there is confusion as to where to direct the anger, and between the veterans there is a sense of affection; a language of unspoken shared history.
When the guitars come out, that’s when I most want my dad with me. Music is for him what theatre is for me, I think. Music unites him with the people around him, is how he explores the world. He sees the high seas through the music of Alestorm, while I learn about the navy in the Royal Court. He took up guitar recently. When Lou Armour screams into a mic, backed by his band of 50-something-year-old veterans – the same age as my dad – I want my dad to feel this group pulsate with absolute shuddering power.
I didn’t learn about the Falklands War at school, bar a brief mention in my A Level History. A footnote to Thatcher’s victory. Watching Minefield, I felt this deep wave of guilt. I regularly pay £15 to hear other people’s stories and see how they view the world, but I ignore the same history when it sits on my doorstep.
My grandad has one eye and one ear. Once, my dad pushed his brother in the River Severn, and when questioned about it, my dad told his dad his brother was ‘being a twat’ – my grandad subsequently congratulated my dad on his triumph. Another time, a load of kids were in my dad’s house’s front garden and my grandad felt like they were watching his family eat, so the following day he marched his five children to the house of the other kids and he had them stare into the window while the other family had tea.
He served in the army for his whole working life. But he is an anecdote in the stories I tell, a cantankerous figure in the comedy caricature I construct of my family. I have never spoken to him about his experience in the Falklands, or much else of his time in the military. This is a man to whom I in part owe my existence, and I, like our cultural zeitgeist, have shown little to no interest in his history.
I wonder what he would have thought about the show. I wonder if he ever crossed paths with any of these six men. I wonder if he still speaks to anyone he served with. I wonder if he found any items on the Islands that once belonged to these men.
I stand pretty firmly against war – and Minefield seems to support that stance, to an extent – but that doesn’t mean I am not actually pretty honoured to have had the stories of these six veterans shared with me so beautifully, too. Whatever side you fight on, you fight, sometimes for reasons you don’t even know. You fight, and you protect those around you and you try to survive, and you do that on top of all the things that go into being a normal human being, and I want to stand up and respect that. I can hope that no other person ever has to fight, but I will respect those that have and do.*
I want Minefield to go out and play in theatres and pubs and schools all around the UK. I want it to reach more people than it can at the Royal Court. I want it to shake our institutions down. I want it to fight back, to remind us all and teach us all about the wars we have forgotten. I want my dad to see it and to hear the music.I want him to tell his brother about it so he can know we remember. I want everyone to see it, because it is magnificent in its power.
Royal Court Theatre (part of LIFT 2016)
*This is really hard for me to write, because the EU Referendum is around the corner and I flinch at the mention of anything even vaguely nationalistic right now, and I don’t know how to convey honour or pride properly without feeling like I am venturing into nationalistic territory. I hope this didn’t. The Falklands War was deeply flawed on both sides, and my sense of ‘honour’ is not nationalistic pride. It is a honour to to see and support such strength from these men. The military runs through the blood of my dad’s family, and so it flows through my veins, too – and so I will always find space to respect soldiers on any side. They are not sending us to war, but fighting in it. I still don’t think I’ve got this right – but I hope you know what I mean.