Grounded

George Brant
Beckie Darlington with Gate Theatre
The Courtyard, West Yorkshire Playhouse

This one-person show tells a simple story. Female US Airforce ‘fighter’ pilot gets pregnant. Returns to service as a drone operator in the desert around Las Vegas. Loses the will to kill when the target includes a child.

The drama is all in the telling. Lucy Ellinson, as The Pilot, works her socks off. Her over-exaggerated, über-male, arrogant swagger and drawl wouldn’t have convinced me, had I not seen it for real on newsreels and in Bosnia. Writer George Brant’s cocksure aerial storm trooper is spot on. And loathsome.

The cheers and high fives that celebrate a kill. The disdain for lesser mortals of any nation. Every word, every gesture, a sure sign that at some deep level is a fearsome insecurity which we might assume, itself comes from a tiny spark of certainty that this is wrong.

But this over-programmed automaton, and perhaps her real life counterparts, knows love. First the love of her ‘blue’. The freedom to split the sky and become enveloped in it. And then, she meets the shockingly inappropriately named Eric. The one man who, if he cannot match her and tame her, is not scared witless by her. Super man/woman falls in love. It is of course a special sort of fierce, burning experience...

And along comes baby Samantha. And now The Pilot is in ‘the chair force’. Hour after hour of looking down on a monochrome grey dessert. No G-force. No camaraderie. No blue. But the drone costs millions and is armed to buggery. Gradually the old superiority comes back. Day after day she is looking down: like a lord. Like a god.

But she is also a mother. When she refuses an order, she briefly finds her blue again. Then a concrete cell block.

My companion for the night agreed that the set is excellent. A simple scaffolding and gauze cube of two or three metres. Fancy lighting. Ellison never leaves it, from preset to final applauds.

Unfortunately, the direction (Christopher Haydon) veers towards a heavy handed over-use of the space. Each part of the Pilot’s life is carefully located in a portion of the cube. It is overdone and repetitive. The impression is sometimes that of a puppet. Perhaps this is intentional, but I fear not. This weakness intensifies the feeling that the show should lose at least ten minutes. The text takes too many bites at the same cherry.

Not everyone would agree, especially the young woman behind me who, with an antipodean raising inflexion announced: "I can honestly say that is the very best thing I have ever seen!". She has pleasures in store.

Reviewer: Ray Brown