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Theatre Review by Lisa Romeo
What: Grounded
Where: Red Stitch
When: 11 June to 12th July
Written by George Brant
Directed by Kirsten von Bibra
Performed by Kate Cole
Set & Lighting Designer: Matthew Adey
Sound Designer: Elizabeth Drake
The Australian Premiere of Grounded is a very well balanced and structured drama. For an 80 minute show with one solo performer, actor Kate Cole as the pilot has her audience fully engrossed with a strength and force that commands and warrants an undivided attention. We become listeners of the intriguing life story of an F16 fighter pilot. The stage is wonderfully set as the internal of a cockpit with a wide windscreen looking out into the distance, turning from sky to desert.
The profession of a fighter pilot is an elitist and respected one, for the fact that it is a brave, difficult and dangerous career choice. This pilot loves her vocation; she is the maverick of the sky and feels she is at her best alone in the cockpit of her plane. When drinking in a bar with her colleagues, the majority of whom are males, she meets a man with enough charisma and confidence to approach a female with the status of Fighter Pilot, they fall in love and he becomes her future husband.
Marriage and motherhood suddenly put on hold this competent and confident pilotís dream job; she does not regret having the blessing of giving birth to a beautiful daughter and relishes the joy of being a wife and mother, but is always yearning to return to the sky as soon as she can. There is a lot of insight here about many women who work and study long and hard to achieve their career goals, and having to face a break from their career to become a mother is not an easy decision to make for many highly professional women.
When ready to return to work she faces the dilemma of not being able to pick up her career from where she left off. She instead is posted to a position on the ground; she sits in an air-conditioned trailer in Las Vegas flying remote-controlled drones. She tries to see the positives like being able to come home every day to her husband and child, so she takes it in her stride and does her best. From this point the story addresses the complexities of the job, the power that one holds; the ability to track high-profile targets in the desert and with the flick of a button to shoot. Cole convincingly and accurately displays the emotions of such a task. She battles with the ambiguity of the external war she is assigned to fight and the internal turmoil of the killing of others, whether it is dangerous targets, but also human beings, like herself or her own child.
Grounded tackles many issues - the glory and the lows of fighter pilots, having to give up work for motherhood, the battle of restoring a career after a break from it, issues of motherhood and marriage itself. The Directing, music and sound design all come together well to bring to the stage this important script. It is a very interesting narrative piece of theatre, sometimes funny and very relevant and necessary. The performance is faultless and beautiful with Cole maintaining her poise and engaging us throughout the entire gripping story.
5 stars
Grounded has won numerous awards (Fringe First Award - Edinburgh Fringe 2013) and been critically acclaimed in both the US and UK (Top Ten Plays of 2013 - The Guardian and The London Evening Standard).
Photo of Kate Cole by Jodie Hutchinson