Grounded (Park Theatre)
Deafinitely Theatre combines British Sign Language and the spoken word to tell the story of a British fighter pilot
Director Paula Garfield has given a vital new life to George Brant's terse, fascinating piece about a female fighter pilot relegated to operating military drones from the Nevada desert following an unexpected pregnancy.
Usually performed as a monologue - most famously by Anne Hathaway in a sell out run at NYC's Public Theater last year - this impressive reinvention for Deafinitely Theatre divides the role of The Pilot between two actors: one speaking Brant's spare, absorbing text while the other conveys it in British Sign Language. Apart from the obvious advantage of illuminating the script for non-hearing patrons, the dual approach doesn't add all that much until the very final moments when Nadia Nadarajah (signing) and Charmaine Wombwell (voice) perform in complete unison, speech and sign language coming together to chilling effect to underline the dehumanising effect of warfare.
Prior to that, undeniably engaging and watchable though both performers are, there is perhaps insufficient sense of them both representing the same woman: Wombwell, despite a couple of unfortunate line fluffs on press night, convincingly conveys the pilot's sardonic humour and underlying simmering rage, while Nadarajah reads as altogether warmer and more innocent. There are however moments when they connect and those moments are thrilling, and I suspect may become more frequent as the run progresses.
It would be unfair to potential viewers to give away too much about the deliberately ambiguous story, but suffice it to say that it is disturbing to see the central protagonist become ever more disengaged from her basic humanity and indeed sanity as the piece progresses. The concept that drones are capable of raining down death and destruction while their operators are literally thousands of miles away is absolutely terrifying, and brought powerfully home in the starkly elegant physical production by Paul Burgess (design) and Jack Knowles (lighting). The use of projections here is spare, clever and, in tandem with Nadarajah's compelling physicality, strangely mesmerising.
Not an easy 90 minutes in the theatre but an undeniably thought provoking and rewarding one.
Grounded runs at the Park Theatre until 21 November.