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Sydney review - Grounded: a play of our times

Right: Emily Havea


By George Brant

Directed by Dom Mercer

A National Theatre of Parramatta Production

Riverside National Theatre

Cnr Market and Church Streets


Season: 14 – 23 March. Bookings:

When United States fighter pilots get promoted these days, they go to the USCF. It’s not an official acronym yet, but those within the military know precisely what it is: United States Chair Force. You see, a pilot gets promoted nowadays by taking a desk job controlling a drone on the other side of the world.

Welcome to Grounded, an unusual but riveting insight into the new age of military warfare.

Grounded is a compelling piece of modern theatre. The subject matter is quite different from what you might ordinarily see but it still evolves around the human dimension, with all its strengths and frailties.

Written by George Brant, Grounded is not laden with technical and military jargon. Rather, it is the case study of one female fighter pilot whose career path is intersected by nature and technological change.

The sole character is nameless. We’ll call her Pilot. I suppose she could tell us her name but would then have to kill us for security reasons. She is so happy flying her F-16 ‘in the blue’, somewhere in the Middle East, constantly on edge, ready to take out designated targets, colloquially known as ‘prophets’.

After each mission she hangs out with ‘the boys’, drinking and playing pool; as you do when you’re in Top Gun mode. This is a professional woman smashing gender barriers and living at the peak of physical, mental and emotional demands.

After a three-day love encounter with a civilian named Eric she is back in the air as usual. Soon she realises she is pregnant. Pilot and Eric are ecstatic and look forward to their life together with baby, subsequently called Samantha.

Of course, the Air Force won’t allow a pregnant pilot, but she takes one last flight so that she can share ‘the blue’ with her unborn child.

Reporting to her Commanding Officer for new duties, Pilot is devastated with the news that she is grounded. She is assigned to Las Vegas as part of the new team of drone pilots.

We learn about the endless ‘grey’, just watching a screen in 12-hour shifts. These new drones can fly constantly, armed to the hilt with Sidewinder missiles and other deathly devices. It takes 1 ½ seconds to send an instruction from her armchair in Vegas to the drone. Each day she ‘goes to war’ and then comes home. Every day.

The plot mounts in excitement and the conclusion is electrifying.

Dom Mercer, the Director, has played everything to the audience. With a wide and deep stage, he milked the theme of the sky to its limit. We felt immersed in the world of the Pilot as the huge, curved screen stood in contrast to the chequerboard grid layout on stage. Cleverly-placed lift out panels quickly created a desert setting.

With a technology-based synopsis, it was great to see impressive lighting and sound ideas come to the fore.

Which leaves me to mention the outstanding performance of Emily Havea. I felt that this role was made for her. She strutted about the ‘blue’, the ‘grey’ and the ‘desert’ with great confidence and tugged our emotional strings when needed. Emily managed to make her flying suit not only a distinguished uniform but a versatile (and sexy) fashion item.

Grounded is a play of our times with serious life and death issues. It is a highly professional production with confronting and thought-provoking outcomes. I recommend strongly, especially for screen-addicted adolescents who you need to get out of the house. They may develop a new-found interest in theatre after seeing Grounded.

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