Gate, Notting Hill, London
Trailing clouds of glory from Edinburgh Fringe, George Brant’s Grounded has now arrived at Notting Hill’s Gate Theatre, itself the home of some of the most vibrant new writing of the past thirty years.
And having seen it, you understand why critics up North were raving. It is an extraordinary, profound and given the present political crisis in Syria and US involvement in the Middle East, uncannily prescient and pertinent. Indeed, such is its impact, it’s the kind of show you feel should immediately be shown to all politicians and military Service chiefs.
Brant, an American, relatively new to British audiences, writes with fierce, urgent economy, in short sentences piling into each other as though under extreme pressure. Which indeed, their progenitor, an ace female pilot in the American Air Force, truly is.
We never learn her name, only those of her much loved daughter Sam and equally treasured husband, Eric. But this is the pilot’s story and the miracle is how Brant has grounded himself in the female pilot’s mind – a woman in a man’s world, thrilled as as any male by the G-force that pins her against her cockpit seat and hurtles her through the sky.
Lucy Ellison, a thin wraith in flying pilot’s combats and harness stands before us within a muslin square. The colours she talks of are the liberating blue of the sky she loves so much – and grey, the murky grey that imprisons her as a drone pilot, pinned to a computer screen, twelve hours a day, scanning the skies in search of the enemy, the Guilty Ones, who in 1.2 secs, at the press of a button, can be eviscerated.
Brilliantly combining the domestic with the political, the banal with the mythological, Brant creates a devastating portrait of warfare in the 21st century, of its dehumanising effects not just on the victims but the perpetrators and does so by crashing his female pilot’s humanity up against those she has to destroy.
Her mind begins to fuse realities: the enemy’s daughter becomes her daughter, her victim no longer a blip but a human being.
A tour de force of outstanding proportions. Superb.
The Pilot: Lucy Ellison
Director: Christopher Haydon
Design: Oliver Townsend
Lighting: Mark Howland
Sound: Tom Gibbons
Video Designer: Benjamin Walden
Associate Director: Caroline Byrne
Associate Lighting Designer: Joshua Pharo
Dialect Coach: Michaela Kennen
First performance at the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill, London, July 24, 2013
Review first published in Reviewsgate, Aug 2013