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GROUNDED – Gate, W11



Crop-haired, upright, an Aryan Alpha-female, she stands proud in flying-suit and straps. She’s a USAF fighter pilot, in love with her F16: “It’s the speed, it’s the G-force pressing you back as you near the sky, it’s the ride, my Tiger…it’s the respect, its the danger. The Blue..”. And – no punches pulled – “I have missiles, I have Sidewinders..I rain them down on the minarets and concrete below me, the structures that break up the sand. I break them back down, return them to desert”.

Phew. Christopher Haydon’s production of George Brant’s monologue, with Lucy Ellinson as the Pilot, was a shock hit at the Gate and the Traverse last year, and I was curious to know whether it was as remarkable as reported. It is. More, if anything: Ellinson (who is British) now inhabits the role with frightening completeness, dominating the room from within a gauzy cube. Her androgynous athletic restlessness breathes exultation. She tells, amusedly, how she met her man Eric, the only guy in the bar back home with the nerve to come on to her . Others run “ I take the guy spot and they don’t know where they belong”. So she’s got her “little woman at home I’m fighting for”.


She’s funny, she’s frightening, she’s big cocksure America. There is brilliance in the way Ellinson enlists you on her side even as she talks of crumbling Iranian minarets. Maybe it’s the way that when she finds she’s pregnant, she resolves that her girl “Will not be a hair-tosser, a cheerleader, a needy sack of shit”, but will understand the high blue glory. She adores her fragile baby but itches for her work. “I was born for this..but I was born for that, too..” The eternal cry of the working mother.


To her horror she is redeployed in the despised “Chairforce”, controlling remote drones miles high over a new war. Stuck in a trailer in Nevada while her man works in Vegas, staring into a screen at grey images from her drone camera, the boredom is broken by occasionally pulling a trigger on ambushes to protect US convoys from ambush. “Military age males…doing something to the road… headset pronounces the males guilty”. Her knuckles whiten as they did in battle, yet she is in no danger. Her perception is dislocated by that paradox: energized and corrupted, she becomes godlike in pride or horrified as heaps of dying humans return to grey “as their thermal readings cool”. Home life becomes the problem. The Odyssey, she says with a return of her old dryness, would be a different book of Odysseus came back every day to his family.


The mental journey eases and sharpens in turn, her marriage shakes. Brant’s script is cunning in theatrical legerdemain: rather than just gasping with easy horror at the cruel strangeness of remote warfare – though God knows the inhumanity is always before us – we find ourselves watching its psychological effect on one flier, one woman, one mother. The general horror and the private stress come together at last, climactically. Unforgettably.


box office 020 7229 0706 to 30 May

Rating: five    5 Meece Rating


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