ORLANDO – On a cold island where it seems relatively easy to find solitude, an aging sheep farmer has a chance encounter with a young British soldier. As they start up a conversation, it will eventually grow into a brief but strong friendship between them.
They’re on the Falkland island, and both came by way of Britain. The sheep farmer’s parents were so traumatized by the devastating Nazi bombings during World War II that the family opted to resettle on Falkland, since the island has been a British territory since 1841 and is mostly inhabited by British residents. The young solider, wide-eyed and fairly green, just arrived from Belfast.
But the soldier isn’t there to learn farming or to get a local job. He’s a British soldier, and has been sent there to hold back the attempt by the Argentinian government to reclaim the island — by force.
The farmer, who as a child lived through the Nazi Blitzkrieg, knows only too well that this conflict has the potential for a devastating conclusion — and that’s long before the bombs start dropping nearby.
“Falkland,” the historic drama being presented by Tasty Monsters Production and premiering at Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, takes a look back at a small chapter in history from the early 1980s, one that’s been far eclipsed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is almost certainly totally unknown to most younger patrons.
It’s a production that deals with a difficult mix of subjects — war, political conflicts, nationalism — that have plenty of resonance today, despite the fact that the Falklands War happened for 10 weeks in 1982. At the same time, the show’s producers and performers, Heather Bagnall and Luke Tudball, deal with it in a quiet, low-key manner, allowing the human drama to take precedence over the politics.
First, a quick refresher course. The Falklands War went on for 10 weeks between Argentina and the United Kingdom, starting on April 2 1982, the day Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands. On April 5, the British government sent a naval task force in response. The conflict lasted 74 days and ended with the Argentine surrender on June 14 1982, with the islands returning to British control.
Argentina had claimed the islands were Argentine territory, but the British government under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher responded that Falkland had been a Crown colony for over a century. Both governments declared the Islands a war zone, and the end result was that 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and three Falkland Islanders were dead.
“Falkland” is set in May 1982, with just three characters: the sheep farmer (played by Tudball), and his wife and the young soldier (both played by Bagnall.) The show uses music from the period (The Clash, Thomas Dolby, etc.) to capture the mood of the times, and there are some political references, particularly from the farmer’s wife, who laments the fact that the war seems like Britain has sent its babies to fight Argentinian babies, or when she angrily wants to know why Thatcher doesn’t arrive on the island herself to solve the conflict rather than seeking headlines back home.
But mostly “Falkland” is about the human toll of war: how people living simple, totally unexceptional and ordinary lives become the lasting victims of these conflicts. They are likely to face either death, or the loss of all their property and the lasting trauma of having survived such a brutal experience.
That may be a key part of the show’s larger point: that while Thatcher was able to use this event for a resounding re-election victory in 1983, there was no real victory for the people who had been victimized by the war.
This show is a stark contrast to the light and zany production that Tasty Monsters brought to Fringe in 2016, the musical comedy “The Space Pirate Puppy Musical.” “Falklands” has some intense moments, but I don’t want it to sound like a downer. There are some funny moments as well, and both Bagnall and Tudball do an exceptional job in their roles. This is a very thoughtful piece that, in a very unstable world, leaves you with plenty of haunting impressions.
“Falkland” is being performed in the Green Venue. Catch it on the following dates:
* Tonight at 8:45 p.m.
* Tuesday, May 23 at 8:45 p.m.
* Friday, May 26 at 5:15 p.m.
* Saturday, May 27 at 4:30 p.m.
* Sunday, May 28 at 11:15 a.m.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Koby’s New Home”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.