by George Brant.
Traverse Theatre (Traverse 2) 10 Cambridge Street EH1 2ED To 25 August.
then Gate Theatre 11 Pembridge Road Notting Hill Gate W11 3HQ 28 August-28 September 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
TICKETS: 020 7229 0706.
Runs 1hr 10min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 August.
Play and production both take flight.
Now war is women’s work too, and no-one takes to it more than George Brant’s US bomber-pilot. She’s up for it, patriotism and no questions asked, till the old and the new ground her.
First, it’s pregnancy, after love and sex invade her life. Then it’s the discovery that, during her maternity leave, bombing-missions have become old fashioned, and she’s been assigned to the new ‘chairforce’ (as she dismissively calls it, along, no doubt, with many another experienced pilot).
This means sitting in an American base guiding drones; blowing-up targets round the Middle East from somewhere in the Midwest. Somewhere near Las Vegas, it seems; the most ersatz and consumerist of places from which to wage war on ancient civilisations. The new job turns a tour of duty into a shift, making commuters of the military.
It also brings new attitudes. The Pilot’s head collapses drowsily onto the screen; everyone falls asleep mid-virtual mission at least once, she’s told. More insidiously, staring at screen views of target areas gives war the feel of computer war-games.
And as reality simulates the simulations, the mind takes a new direction, waiting for something to come along, less as danger than diversion. Permission to strike becomes more than ever the fulfilment of a game, pursuing a target onscreen a test of skill removed from reality.
The skill of George Brant’s play lies in providing a continuous sense of progression, credibly revealing the changed psychology of distance warfare in is newest form. Both Christopher Haydon’s production and the controlled energy of Lucy Ellinson’s performance are admirable. Throughout, Ellinson’s Pilot is encased in a raised chamber, an anonymous environment, which loses its see-through texture after the performance all emphasising visually the seclusion and remoteness of the drone-operator’s working world.
Alongside the psychology of warfare and the coming of the ‘passive warrior’, Grounded makes the most pointed comment on the ill-assortment of military occupation and personal life since the very different situation of Kathryn Bigelow’s skilled bomb-disposal officer faced with the meaningless choices on miles of supermarket shelves back home, in a play that’s revelatory, and brilliantly-performed.
The Pilot: Lucy Ellinson.
Director: Christopher Haydon.