The acclaimed Red Stitch Melbourne season of Grounded found its way to Sydney for a season at the Seymour Centre’s gem of a black box space, the Reginald, and it’s the perfect home for a play like this — the kind that pushes you forward in your chair and steals your breath; the kind of play that feels wholly inescapable.
Kate Cole is our sole performer and for less than 90 minutes, she is everything the audience could possibly need. Swaggering, a proud and strong woman who has always thirsted for the blue of the sky, she is a pilot who will not stop for anyone or anything, high on the adrenalin of fighter planes and war and not built for compromise. She is accepted, through sheer force of skill and longevity, by the men who surround her, and she is a perfectly free person, free to ride the wind in the war of the day like a junkie for sky.
Until she falls in love, gets married, becomes pregnant. It’s sudden and she is suddenly changed, forced to take care of a side of herself she is only just now aware: a tenderness for her husband, her daughter. But she is chafing for the sky, more than ready to return to work. Only the war is fought by drones now; she’ll flying, video-game style, into a blurred distant set of combat. No sky. No danger.
And yet it’s all the more confronting. This is a new kind of warfare, one which she, and all those like her, are wholly unprepared to manage. Chasing targets with terrifying precision, learning a person and their moments to better strike — it’s harrowing. And now she must clock off at the end of her shift and drive home to her young family. It’s a dangerous, haunting dissonance, war as shift-work, and after a while, it’s impossible to compartmentalise.
Director Kirsten von Bibra understands this play on a level that feels something like echolocation; she and Cole cast out vibrations with movement and space and the play’s ideals bounce back and stick where they should. It’s all natural, charged, something more essential than human. Cole is a force and on a visual concept designed sparingly by Matthew Adey, urged forward by music by Elizabeth Drake, she is unstoppable, from her first charming-sly cocky grin into something much more vulnerable.
Grounded is the world we live in now, simultaneously too close and too removed from the consequences of our communities, countries, and their collective choices; Grounded is the portrait of our undoing in new, relentless ways. It’s intense and it needs to be.