By Rosie Niven
When we entered the Lennox Theatre at the National Theatre of Parramatta this Saturday evening, we are greeted with a single chair, adorned with nothing but a fighter pilot’s well-loved helmet. This lonely chair sets the precedence for George Brant’s Grounded: a 90 minute solo performance designed for the strongest of actors. Grounded takes us through the story of a woman working as a fighter pilot and her unconditional love for the sky, what she calls the deep blue. In the first 15 minutes of the show we begin to love the deep blue too, understanding exactly why her job and her solo flights have become such an integral part of her identity. She is the suit, and the suit is her.
Until she falls pregnant. Pregnancy means no more flying, and our pilot is grounded for three years while she raises her beautiful daughter. Desperate to return to the all-encompassing blue, she returns to work only to find out that those fighter jets are no longer used, and instead she’ll be flying a drone. From a small room in Las Vegas. There will be no more blue. Only grey.
Emily Havea is radiant as the Pilot, taking our hands and leading us from the war in Afghanistan to the war inside her mind. She expertly unravels in front of us, only to pull herself together each time for her daughter, creating a painful divide between her job and her humanity. It takes skill and charisma to lead an audience through this tumultuous story, especially on your own, and Emily has both of those in handfuls. My only concern is Emily’s age - the role of the Pilot is often played by a woman in her 40s, and casting a woman in her 20s is a questionable decision from Director Dom Mercer as it creates an unrealistic timeline in the Pilot’s career.
Supporting Emily is an incredible design team consisting of Alexander Berlage, Mary Rapp and Jonathan Hindmarsh. Hindmarsh’s simple set with pockets of unforgiving desert sand allows Berlage’s lighting to flourish across an all-consuming cyclorama, drowning the audience in the blue and making us feel as if we are up there with the Pilot. As the colours drain away and her world becomes grey, we are left with white lines that dance across the floor and flash with each bomb dropped, creating the feeling of a video game that rewards the Pilot for each kill of an Afghani citizen. Rapp’s sound design is subtle yet effective, blurring the lines of reality as the sounds of war begin to invade every part of the Pilot’s life.
Grounded is a role for a versatile actor with an incredible amount of endurance, and Emily Havea has proven to us why she is an actor to watch out for. Brant’s vibrant script shines in this production and makes us question the true costs of war and whether we can go to war and still retain our humanity. This mesmerizing work is only on for a week at Riverside, but I believe throughout this run Emily will only continue to develop and improve her inherently flawed but entirely lovable pilot, so you should absolutely make the trip to see it before it closes.
Photo Credit: Noni Carroll
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.