Minefield (Royal Court)
Argentinian artist Lola Arias brings together British and Argentinian veterans of the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas war to share their experiences
Make art, not war - such a trite slogan, such a simple truth. In Lola Arias' Minefield, six Falklands veterans share a stage - three British citizens, three Argentinians. Almost 25 years ago, they shared another, a theatre of war, but now, despite not speaking the same language, despite lingering resentments and memories that won't budge, they've become a band - a marine on the mic; a Belgrano old-boy on the drums.
At its simplest, Minefield is a documentary piece that charts the Falklands War through personal testimony: six young men, now middle-aged, who went to war in 1982, who fought, who killed, who lived and lost. It gives you a grasp of the politics, as plastic-faced Maggies and Leopoldo Galtieris nod along to rousing speeches, and of the order of events, but mostly it lets you into the lived experience of war: the waiting, the work, the laughter, the flashes of danger. This is a show that knows - and really knows - what it is to come face to face with your enemy and, just as important, with your equal. These men were each other's prisoners. They fought hand to hand. They cradled the dying and buried the dead.
It is the layers that make Minefield though, and Arias' careful composition lets it blossom into much more than a mere documentary. These are real people remembering - sometimes misremembering, sometimes misrepresenting - real experiences and, very often, the real traumas that followed. Much of that finds an outlet in art. Over the years, the veterans have made models of battlefields and collected items from the Falklands' fields. They've told stories, sung songs and danced dances. Even in battle, art found a place - in mess-hall drag acts and parade ground chants. Former signalman David Jackson recounts having one ear on the job, and another on Hancock's Half Hour.
Minefield is, of course, another example - proof that time and talk can heal. If it's moving, it's because it's hopeful, not because it's remotely sentimental. Arias prefers complexity at every turn, and there's an admirable restraint from the six performers - testifying without ever tugging at the heartstrings. It's never easy though: Ruben Otero wears a T-shirt with a statement of Argentinian sovereignty emblazoned upon it.
En route, there are several extraordinary sequences. A raucous cover of the Beatles' "Get Back" - one of the Argentinians plays Ringo in a tribute band - twists into a barked military command, then into a grand political statement: "Get back to where you once belonged." A drum solo crashes out the anger of losing comrades and friends on the Belgrano, blasting you back in your seat as the cymbals surge into chaos. Ex-marine Lou Armour watches his younger self breaking down in a television documentary as he recalls a dying Argentinian addressing him in broken English. It's still shameful 25 years on. The story itself is still shifting.
That's what history does: it lives. Minefield is nothing if not that - living history - with all the tangles, traumas and hard truths that entails.
Minefield runs at the Royal Court until 11 June as part of LIFT.