“My pulse quickens. It is not a fair fight, but it quickens.”
She’s a hot-rod F16 fighter pilot. She’s pregnant. Her career in the sky is over.
Now, she sits in an air-conditioned trailer in Las Vegas flying remote-controlled drones over the Middle East. She struggles through surreal 12-hour shifts far from the battlefield, hunting terrorists by day and being a wife and mother by night.
A gripping, compulsive new play that flies from the heights of lyricism to the shallows of workaday existence, and targets our assumptions about war, family, and what it is to be a woman.
The Gate Theatre is celebrating it’s 35th birthday. For the first time ever, it is touring one of its productions and I’m delighted that it chose Grounded – a Fringe First Award winner – to represent it’s work outside of London.
George Brant has written an eloquent and forceful one-person (one-woman) show about a fighter pilot turned drone operator. The set is minimalist and potent – by turns a stage, a cocoon, a barrier and more – deliberately ambiguous.
Lucy Ellinson delivers a powerful and intense turn as the nameless pilot turned operator focused on balancing shift work with family life. From the moment that she began to speak, I was gripped. Her delivery is staggering; she occupies the tiny set with an unexpected physicality that further solidifies the character before us. Despite the often times difficult subject matter, the play has moments of unexpected humour and tenderness and several times there were guffaws of laughter from the audience!
While the play is ostensibly about drones and the emotional cost that they can have on an operator; it covers far more ground than that. For each of us that watched it, the politics of the play are at once obvious and personal (as beautifully expressed by Beckie Darlington). We take from it the message that we chose.
At it’s most fundamental; it is a play about military personnel. That the pilot is a woman who had a child is by no means incidental, however, to my mind, it is first and foremost a chillingly accurate portrayal of the ambiguous moral and political sphere we increasingly find ourselves living in.
It is rare that I find myself recommending a play unreservedly. I think that everyone should try and see this over the next few days.
After the production I had the rare privilege of meeting the star (so utterly different off stage) and had a great chat with Will Lewis (Technical Touring Manager), Beckie Darlington (Tour Producer) and Katy Munrow Farlie (Deputy Stage Manager).
Their passion for the production goes some way in explaining the astounding 148 shows so far – from London to Washington (where it was particularly well received) to Wales, now Leeds. And Manchester next I believe. When I asked about the intensity and commitment necessary for such a long run, Katy joked that there had definitely been the odd period of madness requiring the occasional conscious decision to create a bit of distance. Regardless, each person clearly had tremendous pride in the play and their interpretation of it.
There are a number of different productions currently in place across the globe. Lucy is apparently in touch with many of the other ‘pilots’. As a pure monologue, there are no stage directions and each has found it’s own way to best reflect their unique visions. It’s hard to imagine another show as abstract or absorbing as the Gate one.
Grounded at the West Yorkshire Playhouse
Buy tickets HERE
Visit the Gate Theatre website HERE