When the Pasha Bulker was grounded off the coast of Newcastle, it was one of the biggest events that could possibly happen in the port city. It was a disaster, it was a spectacle, it was an event — and you don’t get a lot of events in Newcastle.
Alana Valentine’s Grounded brings us 2007 Newcastle: Nobby’s Beach, a dying CBD, unrelenting teenage social heirachy, and Farrah (Jemima Webber), a girl who is obsessed with bulk carriers. An odd obsession, to be sure, even for someone who lives in a port city, but since her best friend Chloe (Siobhan Caulfield) is addicted to the White Stripes can anyone really throw stones? Even the local bullies (they call themselves the Bluejays, in a hilariously adsolescent attempt of trying to sound badass just really backfiring) can remember their own obsessions before they were abandoned in the pursuit of coolness: model airplanes, stamps. Maybe Farrah’s a “boat brain loser”, but at least she has an interest.
When bulk carrier the Pasha Bulker wound up grounded after a storm, 99.99% of Valentine’s Newcastle is thrilled. They’re famous. For five minutes, no one’s planing what they’re going to do when they grow up and get out of the city. But for Farrah, who feels the disappointment and failure of the grounding keenly, it’s the worst fifteen minutes her home could possibly have. And no one will leave the ship’s captain, who Farrah reveres with a heartbreakingly familiar fervor (you’ve been there and you know it), alone.
Grounded is like a love letter to adolescence — it gently, though honestly, portrays its pitfalls, its confusion, and that gnawing sense, as you get into your teens, of who am I going to be. There’s a truth to the dialogue that’s rare; there’s a truth to the dialogue that makes this play profound.
Simply staged and well-directed by Toni Main, the summoned atmosphere lies in the clever use of sound effects and lighting for suggestion of sea, mood, and character, and a beautiful animated illustration of building winds through a kitchen window urges on a brewing storm. Design team of Allan Silove (sound), Lyndon Buckley (lighting), and Marion Giles (designer) have done well.
The young actors are more than capable — atyp consistently foster strong ensembles, and Grounded is no exception. Jemima Webber’s turn as the passionate, staggering real Farrah is absolutely commendable.
Grounded manages to be down to earth and elegant at the same time, just like the human experience, and is a great success.