Originally published on Public Reviews on 29th January 2015
Stranded inside a Perspex-like box, Lucy Ellinson’s pilot is trapped physically in the same way that she feels trapped by the duelling conflicts of family life and drone warfare. Grounded from flying war jets in the desert after falling pregnant, this fighter pilot soon finds herself stationed in Vegas, flying drones at enemy targets thousands of miles from where she is based. George Brant’s staggeringly good monologue poses the question of how the psyche can cope when acts of war and a conventional home life sit cheek by jowl.
The Bristol theatre scene has started 2015 with a bang with two bracing sixty minute pieces that put women centre stage. Whilst Fleabag at the Brewery Theatre questions how to be a woman in a society that (in theory anyway) allow them to take charge of their sexuality, this piece (presented in conjunction with Bristol Old Vic) focuses more on the effect motherhood and a husband have on a woman who thrives in a highly masculine world. They make a great pairing and both play until Saturday if a double bill appeals.
Ellinson has worn this character for a while now; across Edinburgh, the Gate (twice), America and a tour, and it shows. With her tight-cropped blonde hair, military uniform and rock solid gait she is a woman happier shooting the breeze, drinking beer, playing pool with the boys than discussing her emotions. Her husband does the crying; of joy when she falls pregnant, of relief when she is posted in America. This pilot just gets on with the job. And yet there is just a tiny chink in the armour, a higher pitch in tone that hints at the vulnerability behind the shield. When the crack comes it is subtly devastating. She inhabits the character in a way that I haven’t seen since Mark Rylance’s Rooster. It is magnetic and towering and should be seen by anyone who loves to collect great acting performances.
Great performances can only arrive from great writing and she has a script that allows her to scale mountains. Brant’s work balances the personal, the political and the thriller in a way that Homeland, which it resembles, could only dream of. The words tumble out in a symphony of poetic realism, its rhythm fast, unrelenting but never heavy, it wears its subject matter lightly even as it asks the audience to follow it down some pretty challenging holes. It’s picking up industry attention; Anne Hathaway will soon perform it in New York and on film. It’s not hard to see why, it seems on its way to being a modern classic.
Christopher Haydon directs with flair and subtlety and there is great work on the physical production from Mark Howland and Tom Gibbons whose light and sound design respectively add texture and depth. The alchemies have all come together on this one, which makes Grounded a truly breath-taking hour of theatre