Grounded is a searing piece of theatre that tells the story of a female fighter pilot whose wings become clipped after falling pregnant. From flying a F16 fighter jet, the pilot now sits for 12 hours a day, seven days a week flying remote-controlled drones over the Middle East.
Playing to a sold out crowd at the Brighton Dome, George Brant’s electrifying script, Lucy Ellinson’s gripping acting and Christopher Haydon’s exacting direction combine to confront and challenge the viewer. Huge moral and ethical dilemmas are raised with war, killing and motherhood all up for discussion. Throughout the hour-long performance far more questions are raised than issues resolved.
The transition from a Top Gun pilot who “shoots pool with my boys” and only has leave once a year, to being part of the “chair squad” who kisses her husband and daughter every night is a bumpy ride. The war hero who lives in the suburbs does not have quite the same kudos as the returning veteran from duty. As Brant’s writing muses: “How different would The Odyssey have been if Odysseus returned home every evening?”
The changeover to safe and familiar suburbia is not the only alteration that being a drone pilot entails. From being alone in the “Big Blue”, the pilot is now trapped in an air-conditioned container looking out on the grey desert on her screen. These ghostly, disconnected grey images are likened to “putty” and are stared at for 12 hours straight, and begin to permeate her safe domestic haven. The pilot begins to view her daughter, Samm and husband, Eric, through the “gorgon stare” of a drone – they are red on the thermal sensor as she sees them from above.
The disorientation generated through the pilot’s fluctuating perspective is exacerbated by the set. Ellinson delivers the play in a monologue while trapped in a see-through cube raised from the stage. The audience too are viewing the performance from an unusual perspective, almost as if the pilot was trapped and we are onlookers at a zoo. A viewpoint that is used to great effect at the play’s denouement.
Grounded transports its spectators from the oblivion of the skies to the safe perimeters of a child bedroom’s walls to the disintegration of a woman’s sanity. Plotting the toll that war takes, whether the soldier is in a battle zone or controlling a joystick 6000 miles away from death, Grounded superbly portrays the unravelling of a mind.
Grounded played at the Brighton Dome and is on tour until 29 November. For tickets and more information, see the House Theatre website . Photo by Iona Firouzabadi.