Grounded is the tale of a female fighter pilot (Lucy Ellinson) who loves the freedom of the blue sky. However, after falling pregnant during a brief jaunt on leave, she takes maternity leave and returns after her pregnancy to discover she has been shifted sideways into the ignominious position of drone pilot.
The staging sees Ellinson, bedecked in olive green flight suit, stood within a wooden cube structure with gauze covered faces. It is lit from the inside, giving it an oddly ethereal quality. Whilst the performance is bereft of props, during leaps in the narrative loud music is blared and spotted UV lights glare. Ellinson is an extremely confident performer, striding around with the cocksure strut of the fighter pilot. In the loud snap changes between sections, she stands authoritatively and fiercely. The technical work is excellent; sound cues are timed expertly with Ellinson’s flinging actions and subtle light changes mirror the mood as much as fix the setting.
The writing is confident and sparse, lucid without being prolix and expert at building tension. The subversions of atypical gender norms (the notion of ‘Having a boy back home to fight for’ is one such reference explicitly mentioned) are delightful and well encapsulated by Ellinson’s macho demeanour. There is also some beautiful imagery to be found in the contrast between flying a plane and a drone and in the difficulties in balancing family and military duties in such unusual chronological proximity.
All of the above was excellent. However, what really marked out Grounded as superb was its almost unparalleled success at one of the most difficult elements of the one-man show: exactly why or how the story is being told in the first place. Rarely are naturalistic monologue performances satisfactorily explained; with no notion of ‘eavesdropping’, the way there can be with the typical dialogue of stage-plays, the whole procedure can be rendered performative. However, without spoilers, Grounded’s final scene is ingenious, entirely justifying the staging from what had been previously an aesthetically intriguing decision to one that was both entirely unexpected and yet theatrically and contextually perfect. This is a fascinating and superbly performed production that brings real innovation to the genre.