Grounded (tour – Manchester)

”Grounded” is mesmerising, says Joanna Ing.


Grounded is an arresting piece of theatre right from the very start. As you walk into the Royal Exchange studio, you are confronted by a sheer fabric cube lit from above and lit blue from below. Inside stands a woman with cropped white blond hair, her feet are apart and her head is up. She is dressed in a flight suit and she is staring straight ahead.

US writer George Brant’s poetic monologue about a woman pilot who is reassigned to directing drone strikes is a phenomenal piece of writing and it is no wonder that it has been produced in theatres all over the world. This production from the Gate theatre directed by Christopher Hayden, was so successful that they decided to take it on tour. The cube is the stage and the only scenery.

Lucy Ellinson is perfect as the protagonist (we never learn her name), toughened by years of flying solo; she is grounded when she becomes pregnant. When she returns to work, she is made part of the ‘chairforce’ and instead of soaring in the blue she is controlling a pilotless plane. Even when she describes her daughter and her love for her husband, Ellinson conveys the frustration beneath.

Grounded is a very relevant story for the age we live in and the insight is fascinating. The pilot’s transfer to drone controller means living in Vegas and commuting to work everyday to fight a war. It means returning from war every day to her husband and child.

As she puts it imagine Odysseus coming home to his family at the end of each day? Grounded shows just how fighting a war can become mundane and repetitive. These are real lives thousands of miles away, which are being picked off with the press of a joystick in a portacabin in the middle of Las Vegas.

Brant explores the idea of constantly being watched from the drone camera, to the security cameras in the mall. As the grey that the pilot sees on screen starts to creep into her everyday life, it becomes clear that even if she comes home everyday it’s not easy to just shut off what she is doing.

The sparse set coupled with Tom Gibbons’ radio static and rock music sound track and Ellinson’s mesmerizing performance is utterly absorbing.

Grounded is at the Royal Exchange until 8 November.