Falkland Sound: Creating a Play About People Caught in Conflict

Whisper #179

Falkland Sound writer Brad Birch

In 1982, the British Overseas Territory of The Falkland Islands was the subject of a ten week undeclared war. In the first of four blogs, writer Brad Birch explains why he was inspired to tell the story in his new play Falkland Sound.

You could say the seeds of Falkland Sound were sown into me by a family story told to me when I was young.

My Uncle, John Price, had joined the Navy after concluding that being paid to learn a trade while seeing the world felt a surer bet than anything closer to home. The conflict began almost immediately after his ‘passing out’, and so this young man, not twenty years old, who had joined the Navy to experience the world, found himself as one of a total of almost thirty thousand British troops sent to liberate the beleaguered Falkland Islands.

His ship was hit and sank. He survived, but his best friend, and future brother-in-law, didn’t. And so, as a child, the family story of the Falklands conflict was to me one of both distant grief for a person I never met, and the more immediate relief that my Uncle survived.

It was only as I grew up that the political and cultural significance of the ten-week Falklands War became more apparent. The context of the conflict made a literal sense, and as an anti-colonialist I thought the argument was quite straightforward. Nonetheless, I had an emotional connection with the conflict. And while friends in pubs may have argued that we shouldn’t have fought for the Falklands, someone in my family had. So what was I meant to do with that?

For years, I ignored those complicated feelings. They just sat there within me along with all the other knotty and contradictory emotions we often have. Like marbles in a cupboard, they would often loudly make themselves known if accidentally disturbed, but that was it.

Photo of a Falkland Island beach with yellow gorse
The Falkland Islands today
Photo by Brad Birch © The Artist Browse and license our images
Argentine soldiers in Stanley during Operation Rosario
© Malvinas Telam, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons Browse and license our images
HMS Invincible returns from the Falklands War
© Royal Navy, via Wikimedia Commons Browse and license our images

Then in early 2018 the Royal Shakespeare Company asked me to think about writing a play that said something about our country. And there I found myself, feeling very complicated about Britain, ready to write something about an event I already had a complicated relationship with.

At that time I was intrigued by the role that the Falklands conflict played in the political landscape of the Thatcher government of 1979 – 1983. For me the most important piece of legislation from that time is the Housing Act of 1980. It meant that anybody in a council property suddenly had the right to purchase their own homes. It transformed a huge swathe of the population into homeowners, midwifing a new middle class into existence. An Englishman’s home, very literally, became his castle.

Yet, within two years British territory would be disputed. Property rights, newly revitalised, were under threat. Yes, it was an island 8000 miles away. And yes, practically no one had heard of it before. But this was an immediate puncture to the new, burgeoning Tory psychology. The old frailties and turbulences of Post War Britain were rearing their heads again. It’s disputed whether Thatcher may have won the 1983 general election without the Falklands victory. From where I sit, I can’t imagine she would have been allowed to lose a war.

This was the seed of the idea. Little did I know that in the process of writing this play my feelings would become more complicated (and more nuanced). Little did I know that despite my family connection I wasn’t going to end up writing a military play at all, that in actual fact this history play was going to end up being about community. And as much about us now as it is about what happened then.

And this journey of discovery began when, after I convinced the RSC that there was a play in this, they turned to me and said, “Well if you’re going to write it then you know you need to go there”…

Photo of barren landscape
The Falkland Islands today
Photo by Brad Birch © The Artist Browse and license our images

In the next instalment of his blog, Brad boards a flight to The Falkland Islands.

Listen here to Brad Birch talking about Falkland Sound on BBC Radio 4's Today programme (from Friday 4 August).