Grounded by George Grant was performed by Kate Cole and Directed by Kirsten Von Bibra. Cole, a founding member of the Red Stitch Actors Theatre, presented a powerful, gripping performance as female fighter pilot who is reassigned, after her pregnancy, as a drone pilot. Grounded explored more than just the narrative it presents through Cole’s 80 min, stream of consciousness monologue. It raises issues to do with the morality of war and the bizarre situation of warriors who fight the war, but are home for dinner every evening. As Coles character observes, “The Odyssey would have been a very different story if Ulysses was home for dinner every night, a very different story.”
The Red Stitch Theatre is a small, intimate space. The set for this play is a bare concrete box, with no furniture or props. The only ‘objects’ for Cole to interact with are the walls, and the various lighting arrangements which are used to good effect throughout the show. Aside from the traditional spotlight, and not unfamiliar use of silhouette and shadows on the rear wall, Lighting Designer Matthew Adey also utilised more unusual effects such as hard circular spotlights from above, which created pools of light on an otherwise dark stage that Cole could interact with, and small beams of light that crossed the stage horizontally, and at times appeared almost solid enough for the actor to physically grab onto. Cole presented most of her monologue from a stationary position, but moved very specifically from one position to another to represent different places as she recounted her memories of flying, nights at the bar with ‘her boys’, meeting her husband, long hours at the helm of the drone, kissing her daughter goodnight…
It takes an incredibly dynamic performer to hold the audience’s interest alone as intensely as Cole managed, and for such an extended time. The crowd were riveted, she had them in the palm of her hand, drawing them along on her journey, bringing both laughter and tears. At times the character seemed a little stylized and over the top… but not only may that be a fairly accurate depiction of a larger-than-life Top Gun’ fighter pilot, the ‘Best of the Best’, but it was also probably necessary for the character to be slightly exaggerated – to fill the theater with her energy and grab and hold the audiences undivided attention for 80 min. Cole displayed a gamut of emotions throughout the show – exultation, raw sexuality, arrogance, vulnerability, hope, nurturing, despair, love, acceptance. Her characterisation was strong and consistent. Cole’s accent also never wavered, even when she broke briefly into song.
Grounded is the type of show where everyone in the audience will take something different away. Personally, I found I was impacted more by the inherent unfairness of the military lifestyle portrayed (and the ultimate consequences) than by the brutal reality of war. It was a powerful show – at times confronting, and certainly makes the viewer stop and think. A show that challenges rather than entertains, but well worth watching.