Grounded is a gripping production that shines light on crucial elements of modern warfare and its ramifications for humanity.
Kate Cole. Image by Jodie Hutchinson.
Grounded revolves around a fighter pilot (Kate Cole), who loves the sky; she insists she belongs to ‘the blue’. When she settles down with a husband and a child, she ends up piloting a drone flying over an unnamed foreign desert, while she sits in a base outside Las Vegas. The twelve-hour shifts of staring at a screen of grey do not help with her missing ‘the blue’, and instead, threatens the very core of her being.
According to The Age, Grounded has been ranked by both the Guardian and The Evening Standard as their top ten plays of 2013. The extensively toured play has had ten productions around the world in the past ten months With Red Stitch's current production, it is easy to see what makes Grounded one of the most sought-after contemporary theatrical productions of the moment. The play features Orwellian themes of surveillance for the 21st century, which results in the arresting interplay between technology, morality and identity. Written by George Brant, Grounded features important themes that are highly relevant to today's world, encouraging us to think about these heavy issues.
Brant's compelling writing, almost lyrical, is marvellous for the stage. With its simple syntax, the writing never tries too hard, yet it encompasses so much, from powerful imagery, as seen in the repetition of the drone camera as ‘the eye in the sky’, to endearing pop culture references: ‘I'm like a backup singer for Neil Diamond’.
As a one-woman show, Grounded's success rests primarily on Cole's very capable shoulders. She commands presence, and deserves every bit of it. Cole portrays the play's heroine in the beginning as a confident fighter pilot, proud to don her suit, and displays a rough, cocky swagger. She smirks, ‘He kissed me like the rockstar that I am’,on meeting her partner for the first time. Gradually, Cole subtly morphs into a lesser version of her character as her new job begins to severely strain her. Cole uses a repeated physical motif where her palms cover her eyes, only to swipe them away. It is a powerful visual effect, as it reveals her emotional vulnerability behind her reassuringly tough armor.
The stage is entirely bare, and relies on ingenious lighting to present different scenes. Set and lighting designer, Matthew Adey, uses a blue backdrop as the sky; a circle of lights on the stage floor to represent the drone's ‘eye in the sky’. Its minimalist approach makes the show even more engaging, enticing the audience to delve deeper into the heroine's world. Composer Elizabeth Drake presents a soundtrack that sets an eerily tense atmosphere, with its radio-headset static creating a sense of foreboding to prepare us for the dreadful ending for our heroine.
Grounded carries significant themes of watching and being watched, and in its final moments, hints that perhaps we, the audience, are far too comfortably swept up in being voyeurs ourselves, pulled into the protagonist's downward spiral. With a mesmerising performance by Cole and strong stage design, Grounded is a gripping production that shines its ‘eye’ on crucial elements of modern warfare and its ramifications on the human condition.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Written by George Brant
Directed by Kirsten von Bibra
With Kate Cole
Set & Lighting Designer: Matthew Adey
Composer: Elizabeth Drake
Assistant Director: Elizabeth Nabben
Stage Manager: Jillian Britton
Red Stitch Theatre, Chapel St, St Kilda East
11 June – 12 July
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level