[author-post-rating] (4/5 Stars)
The Pilot lives to fly – she dreams of the blue sky and nothing makes her happier than to be out in it, alone. But it isn’t all blue skies: this pilot flies an F1 Fighter plane, dropping missiles for the US Airforce, and she has fought her way into her flight-suit. In this remarkable solo show, performed with as much force as nuance by Lucy Ellinson, we see inside the mind of one of the people behind that force of utter devastation.
Grippingly directed by Christopher Haydon, whose Purple Heart at the Gate Theatre hummed with a similarly disquieting tension, Grounded is impossible to take your eyes off, from start to finish.
George Brant’s script zips through the years at a steady pace, as the Pilot meets and falls in love with Eric, before finding herself suddenly pregnant – and grounded. She cannot fly in this condition, as using the ejector seat would force her baby from her body in mid-air. So she goes back to him and stays on the ground, and tries to work out how to live her life beneath the sky, instead of in it. And when the Pilot eventually goes back to work, everything has changed. She isn’t allowed to fly anymore, really to fly – she has been transferred to what the other fighter pilots mockingly dub “the Chairforce”. In a word, to drones. Her new job will be to stay on the ground and in the States, raining death on foreign deserts from unmanned flights.
It’s impossible to go much further without saying a word about Oliver Townsend’s bizarre and very original set design. From the moment the audience enters the room to the moment they leave it, the Pilot remains at a distance from us, once removed, inside a cloth-walled cube. So, a one-woman show, where that one woman’s movement is limited to a few feet by a few feet, with no props but a bottle of Pepsi and no chair. It should be easy for a show like this to lose your attention, but Grounded is a play that holds you in its palm and grips you tight.
The script is layered and interesting, the direction is taut, and it is impossible to give too much credit to Ellinson here. Her Pilot is relentless and a little terrifying, but also a woman – actually a woman, not just, in either script or performance, a character who happens to be played by one. She is fierce without being unemotional, changed by motherhood in a way that is an extension rather than a transformation of her personality – she is drenched in war, but goes home to her husband and child every night.
Grounded works both as an examination of what drives her and of the way that modern warfare has changed forever in the last few years, in ways that most of us cannot even imagine. This is theatre at its most powerful and relevant.
Grounded can be see at the Traverse at 16.00, every day until 25 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.