Grounded at the Gate Theatre
Lucy Ellinson returns to the Gate Theatre as the unnamed pilot in the spectacular one-woman show Grounded, following its previous successes at the Notting Hill Theatre and in Edinburgh last year.
Grounded presents a US military F-16 pilot fighting the Iraqi war. Falling pregnant during her annual leave, she is subsequently forced to take up a land-based position as a drone pilot. From experiencing the “thrill of the sky” to working 12-hour shifts in an air-conditioned trailer in Las Vegas, followed by her evening duties as wife and mother, the pilot recounts coming to terms with the harsh realities of war, family and womanhood.
The term “grounded” refers both literally to Ellinson’s circumstance, as she is transferred from the sky to a ground control station, and to her cognitive journey as she acquires an increasingly clear grasp on the true consequences of her actions. Her learnings are plural: for instance, that despite the sexiness of countering terrorism from the skies, war has a mundane and distressing face. Not only can its shift-based routine feel like working in a call centre, far removed from the heroic feeling of fighting a war, but that “playing God” when pressing the button to exterminate the target, isolated from the physical thrill of being up in the sky, is in fact a rather tragic act.
Moreover, the feminist message seems to suggest that no matter how much the pilot might seek to assimilate in this man-dominated world – and it’s tough to think of better examples of “masculine” roles than a F-16 fighter pilot – her womanhood will always hold her back: whether through pregnancy’s career-related repercussions, or through human sensitivity cultivated by maternal instincts.
Upon entering the auditorium, the viewer encounters a female US army pilot, proudly stood in uniform inside an enclosing openwork structure, like a caged-up bird blissfully unaware of its own captivity. The set-up immediately challenges any audience presumption that becoming grounded is, in the play’s context, in any way a positive experience.
Ellinson’s discourse confirms this, and her performance is captivating: she is vividly frank and evocative, exhibiting a spectrum of emotions with dexterity and candour. As she moves around in earnest self-expression inside her box – a symbolic representation of her claustrophobic existence – her dance-like manner synchronised with rhapsodic narration and subtle lighting and sound effects form a total synthesis of art, leaving the viewer fully hypnotised by Ellinson’s monologue from beginning to end.
Grounded is at the Gate Theatre until 30th May 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.