Culture Writers Ilina Jha and Hannah Dalgliesh attend The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Falkland Sounds by Brad Birch and directed by Aaron Parsons, both feeling as if it was an insightful re-examination of the Falkland War.
Perspective One: Ilina Jha
Currently playing at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon is a brand-new play by Brad Birch; Falkland Sound. Directed by Aaron Parsons, Falkland Sound tells the story of the Falkland War in 1982 – a conflict prompted by the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands, which, although being a British territory, has long been a site of contention between the two countries. However, instead of focusing on the political conflict between the two countries, as is so often the case, Falkland Sound tells a story less frequently told; the story of the Islanders themselves, caught in the middle of a territorial argument between Argentina and the United Kingdom.
Birch’s script brilliantly tells this story in all its complexity, humour, and tragedy, although at times some sentiments were overstated and could have been presented with more subtlety. The scenes of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain include fast-beating, anxiety-inducing music and staccato dance movements that create a tense, haunting atmosphere, while flashing lights and harsh sounds are used to convey the terror of the war afflicting the Falkland Islands. In the second act, guns are lowered from the ceiling and remain there throughout the production, emphasising the constant military threat posed to the Islanders throughout the Argentinian occupation and the British presence after the war.
There are strong performances across the board from the cast members, and they handle the significant amount of doubling in this production very well. Some of this doubling seems to be particularly meaningful – for example, Lauren Patel and Anyebe Godwin, who play the young Islanders Sally and Jacob respectively, also play the Youths in the scenes set in Thatcher’s Britain. Meanwhile, Sandy Foster plays Rosie, a sensible and outspoken Islander who is unafraid of questioning the Argentinian soldiers, as well as British journalist Clare, who is unafraid of asking politicians difficult questions and calling them out on controversial topics.
The design of the stage floor is excellent. At the beginning of the play, the stage floor is a gorgeous collage of patches of green, blue, and brown; however, when the second act begins, the floor is bare save for a few white patches towards the edges of the stage, symbolising both the literal winter season and the metaphorical barrenness of winter that has descended on the Islanders following the Argentinian invasion. When spring arrives at the end of the play, with the conflict ended, some of the green and brown patches are restored to the stage floor, but large, empty spaces are left to represent the changed life for the community as a result of the war. Such a small thing as altering the floor design truly elevates this play and its themes.
Overall, Falkland Sound is a fantastic production. Whether you know about the Falkland Islands and the Falkland War or not, this play is for you.
Perspective Two: Hannah Dalgliesh
Forty years on from the Falklands War, Brad Birch’s new play dramatises the build up to this devastating ten-week conflict and the reconstruction in its aftermath. The central tenet of his play is community: a well-chosen cast of characters whose warmth and humour are undeniable. From the loveable grumpy neighbour who is owed potatoes to the mother of two who doesn’t know how to explain invasion to her children, the islanders are a strong unit. Individually they are unimportant: together they form a community force. They belong.
The play transitions between the day to day life of the islanders and the fraught politics of early 80s Britain. Margaret Thatcher will always make for good theatre: her legacy of strikes, poverty, the destruction of industry, and the violence which played out under her leadership combine a substantial portion of our history. References to ‘Milk Snatcher’ Thatcher and Bloody Sunday fitted seamlessly into the dialogue. Anger fuels art and here in particular it works, although perhaps the Margaret Thatcher we see on stage is not as she should be. The comedic acting, of Thatcher and the politicians around her, was a deliberate choice to emphasise the (eerily-prescient) horror of unemployment and starving children under Tory rule, but it missed the mark. The contrast between the Thatcher we saw acted, and the actual footage of her speeches projected on to the back of the set, made for wildly different emotional reactions.
Certainly, this play did very well to draw on the tensions of culture, identity and nationhood. Gabriel (Eduardo Arcelus) and Sebastian (Alvaro Flores) were standout characters; both Argentines, one an islander and the other a soldier, who played out the internal conflict and the difficulty of allegiance with excellent range.
The play’s pacing and narration were at times less smooth than it could have been. It takes a considerable time for the actual conflict to begin, and the islanders narrate a significant portion of the events in reported speech, which makes it feel less like an experience of community hardship and more of an individual matter, which was clearly not the aim of the story.
However, what Falkland Sound does is overall fantastic. It is the powerful story of what happens when imperial legacy and violence meet, and what it means to survive something wholly unprecedented, with a leader grasping for votes rather than with the sound understanding of what is really happening. It is the story of a place most British people rarely think of or even consider British, and what it meant to have that identity overturned in the space of a few days. This play is at its best when it focuses on politics; it is, in these moments, incredibly didactic and brilliantly acted. You cannot fault the ambition and drive of its story, when this part of our history is so often left behind. The final speech from Joanne Howarth’s Margaret Thatcher was phenomenal. Howarth captured her every movement and manner of speech with astonishingly lifelike effect – I was more than impressed.
At a crossroads in our own, messy, 21st-century politics, it feels more important than ever to re-examine our collective history and underline what it means to be British, whether we should cherish that or not, and how we move forward into making theatre reflect our understanding of nationhood.
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