• Theatre
  • Drama
Critics' choice
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© Iona Firouzabadi

The First World War was a century ago and times have changed. Where war once meant hordes of young men sacrificing their lives in foreign lands, now both women and men can take part in the battle, some from the safety of a trailer park near Las Vegas.

George Brant’s superb, intense play demonstrates how no matter where you’re conducting it, war grates on the heart, soul and mind. His protagonist is The Pilot, a rough, tough woman F-16 flyer for the US Air Force who loves ‘the blue’ and the thrill of flight. When she gets pregnant on leave she starts a family and is happy, but it’s not long before she’s raring to get back to work. When she does, things are different. She is reassigned to ‘pilot’ drones – remotely controlled stealth bombers operated from the desert a few miles from the Vegas Strip.

Lucy Ellinson returns as The Pilot after the show’s hit runs in Edinburgh and London last year, and she is devastatingly good. Her relaxed, jokey manner occasionally breaks, hinting at a taught energy which she increasingly loses control of as The Pilot struggles to reconcile her two worlds – one where she bombs ‘the guilty’ in 12-hour shifts, the other where she returns home each night to be a wife and mother.

Though we are never quite sure what’s going to happen until it does, Ellinson makes this journey feel determined somehow, like one of the Greek myths she frequently references. The Pilot is a tragic figure, alone on her path, wanting and needing something no-one can give her.

‘Grounded’ is a smart, beautiful bit of writing that mixes our moral responses to war, family and motherhood, and throws them out in all directions. Spunky and funny, Brant’s script is completely absorbing and hard to forget.

Christopher Haydon’s production has Ellinson in an enclosed space, with flashing, intrusive lights and images that unsteady our perceptions. It’s neat and simple and Tom Gibbons’s soundscape is the perfect unsettling accompaniment; it rises and falls as The Pilot does and forces us to home in on her unhappy, inevitable journey.

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