What did you do in the war, Dad?

For many people, the 1982 war between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the archipelago known by one side as the Falkland Islands and the other as Islas Malvinas is little more than a historical footnote, or at best a handy conflict used by the leaders of both countries as a means of drumming up nationalist support in the last years of the Cold War. (Well, the original Cold War, not the off-brand sequel that seems to be fomenting these days.) It’s not the thing that comes to most people’s mind with respect to the early 1980s. They remember E.T., Ronald Reagan, Eye of the Tiger and Chariots of Fire, Dallas and Dynasty – but the Falklands War rings very few bells.

Campo Minado / Minefield

This is decidedly not true for the Argentinians – and, more so, for the soldiers who fought during those absurd 74 days. The Falklands War happened almost forty years ago, yet it is still very present.

The theatre piece Campo Minado / Minefield, written and directed by the Argentinian artist Lola Arias, brings together six veterans, three from Argentina, two Brits and a Nepalese Gurkha who fought on the side of the British. Campo Minado is part memory play, part docudrama, and all extraordinary, especially in how it interweaves the past and the present, fiction and fact, experiences of the young soldiers and the recollections of their older selves, the documentary sources and the fictionalised representations of what happened.

Differently from documentary film which, like cinema in general, is biased towards realism and naturalism in its representation, theatre rarely bothers to make its own artifice invisible, instead embracing it as an asset. Campo Minado uses various styles, tones and media, from straight-to-camera interviews via video reenactments using toy soldiers to a camp cross-dressing striptease and rock music interludes – but none of these feel forced or gimmicky, often because they’re directly motivated by biographical details. Recorded speeches by then-PM Margaret Thatcher and Argentinian president (but don’t call him a military dictator) Leopoldo Galtieri are played back while two of the cast members in rubber masks act them out. The cast play their younger selves, and every wrinkle and grey hair speaks to the lives they have lived since and the trauma they have all tried to deal with.

Campo Minado / Minefield

Campo Minado never tries to tell its audience that this is exactly what it was like, either as a combattant or as a veteran dealing with wartime memories and feelings of guilt, but it does brilliantly at expressing the casts’ jumble of memories, beliefs, attitudes – all the while finding common ground and moments of reconciliation, though without ever coming to a glib conclusion along the lines of these six men finding peace and friendship thanks to the Power of Art. The protagonists present an obvious recognition that in many ways these veterans may well share more with those who fought on the other side than with the people who stayed back home, but Campo Minado doesn’t pretend that reconciliation can ever be fully achieved, and once there everything is okay. The islands are still a British overseas territory, the British-Argentinian relationship is still fraught, and the piece addresses this in smart and pithy ways.

Campo Minado / Minefield

I saw Campo Minado recently at the Swiss performing arts festival AUAWIRLEBEN. I’m not sure whether the performance was sold out, but most of the seats were taken. If the Falklands War is barely remembered by most people these days, it’s even less prominent in Switzerland, a country that hasn’t witnessed war or been involved in combat in centuries. Nonetheless, even before the long, enthusiastic applause at the end it was obvious that the piece had engaged its audience. Campo Minado is about a very specific moment in history, but its specificity – that conflict, those nations, the six men we get to know a little during the 1 1/2 hour performance – perfectly complements its universality. It is a story about the Falklands War, but it is equally a story about trauma, resentment, guilt, abandonment, the parts of yourself that you leave behind and the home that you can never fully return to. The cast of six assembled by Lola Arias has been performing Campo Minado on stages around the world since 2016, fitting it in next to their day jobs, and it is a perfect illustration of what documentary theatre can achieve.

Campo Minado / Minefield is currently touring Europe and will be back in Switzerland at the end of August/beginning of September.

AUAWIRLEBEN is returning in May 2019.

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