Blue Cow Theatre Inc
Directed by Annette Downs, starring Jane Longhurst
Review by Anica Boulanger-Mashberg
Technology may have changed the methods of war yet perhaps not, Brant suggests, the human experience of it.
‘Grounded’ after briefly favouring love and family over her military career, the Pilot (Jane Longhurst) returns to work where instead of guiding her craft in the great ‘blue’ of which she still dreams, she finds herself dropping her daughter at daycare and reluctantly driving across the desert to the strange daily mundanity that is war at a distance. Now a drone pilot, she fights and kills remotely, but she suffers and struggles here and now. Her actions might be distant but the trauma of them is very present.
Without forcing the issue, the play asks what constitutes reality in a world of drones and screens and surveillance. For the Pilot, reality is her husband Eric and daughter Sam, and yet they are also the distraction from what she feels is her calling. Longhurst handles the tension gently and honestly: a soldier, wife and mother, and in between, a strong yet lost human. Soft moments of love are a ‘grounding’ of a different kind and the surprising glow of her relationship with Eric seeps through even the most predictable aspects of her tough fighter-pilot-exterior.
For me the production is at its most rewarding as war takes its toll and the inevitable cracks in the Pilot’s bold confidence begin to undermine her stability; the progression of her story is unsurprising yet still acutely affecting, and maybe all the more so for the humdrum exposition of the first half of the script (which manages to feel both too slow and too fast: rushing us through the Pilot’s recent years yet lacking in texture and contrast).
The quietly stark efficiency of Annette Downs and Robert Jarman’s set, Andrew Macdonald’s lighting, and Heath Brown’s soundscape follows Downs’ steady interpretation of Brant’s script: no energy is wasted with unnecessary decorative edges, while complete energy is dedicated to focus on the Pilot’s inner world, outer world and – most interestingly – where the two merge. Longhurst is shiningly assured in her performance and sensitively traverses the psychological terrain, easily carrying the intensity of the solo work. I do wish there was a little more depth for her to work with in places: the script made it too easy to skate across the story, leaving some of the crisis points a little too exposed.
While I felt I waited too long for the story to begin – what is this woman feeling, and when will we see what’s really going on for her? – its later developments overcame this, making the evening more than worthwhile.
Grounded is presented by Blue Cow TheatreInc and has a season at the Theatre Royal Backspace (28 May – 6 June 2015 at 8pm) as well as at the new Moonah Arts Centre (12 & 13 June 2015 at 8pm).