In George Brant’s full-throttle play, Grounded, we are introduced to a splendid specimen of female fighter pilot (Lucy Ellinson) standing proud in the military flight suit she has earned as an ace aviator. Her sexed-up zip suit, reminiscent of Tom Cruise in Top Gun, tells us she is one of the chosen ones, a Steampunk harbinger of death, ready to zap the enemy in air-to-air combat. Frenetic shards of ear-splitting rock music slice the air around her but she remains still. Nothing can pierce her reserve.
It’s curious though, that she’s restricted to the confines of a cage, about the size of a boxing ring that might contain a prestigious prize fighter. The music stops and she confronts us with her story.
This woman, without a name, who tears through the skies in a fighter plane she calls ‘My Tiger’, ‘My gal who cradles me, lifts me up’. And we get it. What makes it all worth it. It’s the respect, the danger, the vastness of the blue. She is a titan of the sky, soaring above mere mortals. She looks down on us, smug and self-satisfied.
It’s a surprise then when she tells us that she’s in love with Eric, he’s somebody who works in a hardware store. ‘It takes balls for a guy to approach me,’ she says, and Eric made it through a barrier of military colleagues to flirt with her in a bar. They have sex. She falls pregnant and bonds immediately with the tiny life that grows inside her. She is proud to be her baby’s protector and forsakes her love of aerial combat. ‘I want the sky’, she says, ‘but I can’t kill her.’ It’s the danger of the ejection seat, which could result in an ejection of the baby – a G-Force abortion. She is grounded for three years and devotes herself to her baby daughter. But she misses the blue, misses the danger. She wants to live in the skies and zip herself back into her flight suit. She reports to her commander. She is back in action and ready for war.
But there’s been a change – a technological change – to warfare. Forget the cockpit, the speed, and the firepower, it’s drones that do the killing now. Drones that can be operated while sitting in a chair.
‘You want to stick me in the Chair Force?’, she says. But it’s the only option open to her and she can report for work in her flight suit, albeit, while staring at a computer screen for 12 hours a day, observing a desert somewhere in the middle east. We sense that hers is an important work, annihilating a perpetrator. Hey, those guys, they’ve stopped by the side of the road. They’re out of their car. They must be planting an IED. A voice in her headset pronounces the men ‘guilty’. She moves the joystick. Presses the button. BOOM.
And this is where we might question the psychological effect on this woman, this military combatant who enjoys the pleasure of killing without the threat of death to her own person. Grounded may have a chilling effect, but it is not unfamiliar. Perhaps it’s because it is mixed with the mundane, the ordinary, the ease in which a murderous occupation can be presented as a routine desk job. Thankfully, director Christopher Haydon leaves us to address our own questions about the world we live in, which seems destined to exist in a perpetual state of war.
Review by Loretta Monaco
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 hours shifts far from the battlefield hunting terrorists by day and being a wife and mother by night.
Cast and Creatives
Playwright: George Brant
Pilot: Lucy Ellinson
Director: Christopher Haydon
Designer: Oliver Townsend
Lighting designer: Mark Howland
Sound designer: Tom Gibbons
Video designer: Benjamin Walden
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