Lucy Ellinson is a fiery, versatile performer. In Grounded, she delivers George Brant’s meticulously researched text with an unrelenting pace and devilish energy.
Ellinson’s anonymous character, known only as ‘The Pilot’, is a fighter pilot until an unplanned pregnancy means she takes time away from the blue skies to care for her new daughter. When she returns to work, the air force as she knew it has been changed beyond recognition. She is, reluctantly, resigned to the grey “Chair Force”, a trailer in the middle of the desert outside Las Vegas, to spend 12 hour shifts flying remote controlled drones hovering thousands of miles away above Afghanistan using a joystick. This, she is told, is where the real war on terror is fought.
Brant’s monologue is captivating not only because of Ellinson’s riveting performance, in which she makes the mean feat of an hour long solo show appear second nature to her, but also because of Oliver Townsend’s intelligent set (a grey mesh box in which Ellinson stands for the duration of the performance), which really drums home the messages in Grounded. We can see in but she can’t see out, and it is this key feature of the production, illuminated by Mark Howland’s sophisticated lighting design and at times pumped with heavy beats by Tom Gibbons, which translates the pervading sense of claustrophobia and constant surveillance that begins to suffocate Ellinson’s pilot. It not only greatly aids Christopher Haydon’s slick direction of Brant’s highly charged and, at times, rather poetic text, but it is a necessary facet to portray the pilot’s all consuming desire to hunt down “the guilty”.
What we don’t predict is for the sense of thrill that Brant’s pilot had felt travelling at great speeds in the air to resurface whilst sat in the desert. Yet this is exactly why Brant’s play is just as much about the radical change in modern warfare and increasing dependence on, and prevalence of, technology, as it is about motherhood, surveillance, the mental well-being of the armed forces and a sense of self. Brant has thus managed to pack a huge amount into this short play, yet through Ellinson’s natural embodiment of the pilot, and with a text that flows effortlessly, the production is a hard-hitting and powerful comment on a rapidly changing industry.
Grounded is playing at The Gate Theatre until 21 September. For more information and tickets, see the Gate Theatre website.