Printable CopyGROUNDED
Holden Street Theatres
Holden Street Theatres
Until 17 Mar 2019

Review by Sarah Westgarth

Presented at the 2019 Adelaide Fringe Festival

Depicting war in film, theatre or television has the difficult task of balancing giving an accurate portrayal of reality, and risking the glorification of it. Where a production is perceived to fall on this line is also largely impacted by the audience’s personal views of war, and connection to the personal and political ideas that are being explored. A one-person show offers a further potential complication, as it is, by its nature, generally limited in its perspective. ‘Grounded’, written by George Brant, tells the story of an American fighter pilot who is forced to take a period of leave after unexpectedly falling pregnant. When she returns to duty, she is relegated to the ‘chair force’, undergoing retraining to learn how to pilot unmanned drones in Afghanistan, half a world away from where she sits in Las Vegas. The show tackles the psychological toll of modern warfare, the balance of combat and family life, and the ethical implications of participating in a battle where your own life is not at stake. It’s a show that will be divisive for those who see it; some will applaud its unflinching and stark approach and be emotionally moved by it, while others will find discomfort in it, and see it as a celebration rather than a criticism. And the show itself does not appear to take a strong moral stance either way.

Martha Lott’s performance is commanding and complex; she has the difficult task of inviting the audience into a world which is likely to be entirely foreign to most of them. Lott throws herself into the role, playing the light-hearted moments and the darkest ones with the same intense energy and gusto. Connecting with her as a character is made hard by the aforementioned nature of her job and situation. She is also given little dimension to her personality, other than the fact that she enjoys flying, and gets a thrill from executing ‘the guilty.’ Her motivations are never really explored; it’s not clear how she ended up where she is. Lott’s portrayal has depth, but it is limited to what is written in the source material. The character’s ability to connect is made more complex when seeing her delight at dropping explosives on her unsuspecting victims, or describe herself as a god passing judgement. For anyone who is uncomfortable with these images, or has a strong pacifist viewpoint of war, the emotional resonance is marred.

It could be argued that the play is critical of the character and the way she views her job with such glee, particularly as that feeling is short-lived; her mental health declines, her relationship with her family becomes frayed, and she finds the lines between the battlefield and her home becoming increasingly blurred. But the use of drones in modern warfare is so complex and controversial, and ‘Grounded’ has such a narrow focus to the experience of this one pilot. As such, it risks appearing shallow in its exploration of its central ideas, particularly when the character often feels like a stereotype of a soldier.

How ‘Grounded’ resonates with you will largely depend on your personal feelings about the acts it chooses to depict. It pulls no punches with showing you the nationalistic viewpoints and black and white morality of someone spending their days on the hunt to kill. That being said, it is not a victorious journey, and the show does not shy away from the central character’s internal conflict and emerging PTSD. The audience is a witness to her psychological torment, and it is unflinching in its authentic portrayal of this. Nevertheless, there will be audiences who cannot see pass the intense, blind patriotism and celebration of violence that are peppered throughout. Even with a critical eye, it is disconcerting to witness.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)