With extremism, populism and fake news dominating our political landscape in recent years, an overriding theme of this Adelaide Fringe and Festival is questioning the status quo. Grounded adds yet another layer to this conversation, forcing the West to confront its self-ordained role as the giver and taker of life on our great blue globe.
The bulk of the story is straightforward enough, in the way I imagine military life to be. Routine-driven. Black and white. No questions. Clean-cut. Find the bad guys, kill the bad guys, get home in time for dinner. It's a simple as that.
Except it's not. As our F-16 flying ace shows us, even in her tightly-zipped flight suit, it can all unravel just as easily. Unexpectedly pregnant, the pilot finds herself grounded. No longer top shit but cleaning it, she's dragged from her beloved big blue to a dismal grey. When she finally returns to duty, she's relegated to piloting drones, no longer above the desert sands of the Middle East but from a windowless trailer in Nevada.
The pilot's only joys are listening to AC/DC, kissing her sleeping daughter at night, and locating military-aged males and destroying them. She has given life and she takes it away. But soon the eternal greys blend and merge. The Gorgon-eye view, the exploding body parts, the Nevada desert sands, the civilian faces, her daughter. So which grey is good and which grey is evil? If it's all grey, can you still pull the trigger?
Martha Lott is our solo performer (and beloved Artistic Director of Holden Street Theatres). She gives a resonant and contained performance as the grounded pilot. Her character is unquestioning, confident, driven, ego-fuelled. An emotion bottler. Lott expresses these intricacies delicately, powerfully. George Brant's smart script, Poppy Rowley's stripped back direction, and the exceptional design team complete the picture.
Grounded is at Holden Street Theatres for the rest of the Fringe. If you really want a punch in the guts, see Bin Laden: The One Man Show and Grounded on the same night. They are two sides of the same coin.