Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Grounded

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Grounded

Article excerpt

Credit: Lloyd Evans

Grounded

Gate, until 30 May

Debris

Southwark Playhouse, until 17 May

Off to the Gate for a special treat: a pious anti-war monologue from the prize-winning American George Brant. Curtain up. And within seconds all my preachy prejudices have fallen apart. The speaker is a female pilot in a jump suit sealed within a see-through cage. Slaying men is her vocation. Interesting!

The story moves with amazing deftness and clarity. She flies missions over Iraq. Loves it. The speed, the jeopardy, the power, the solitude. 'The blue' is her term for her intoxicating and deadly haven in the skies. Home on leave, she hits the bars. A one-night stand. She likes the guy. Back in Iraq, she's pregnant. Skypes him. He weeps with joy. She's honourably discharged. Back home, they marry. A daughter arrives. She's settled and fulfilled. But she longs to return to 'the blue'. Go for it, says hubbie.

Rejoining the air force she finds that her beloved F16s are no longer 'top shit'. She retrains and gets a job piloting heavily armed drones that survey the Afghan border. 'The chair force,' she carps. She works on an air-conditioned base, doing 12-hour shifts, holding a joystick and watching screens that show nothing but sculpted putty. 'The grey'. She misses the stratosphere, the shared risk, the camaraderie. But when she identifies a group of 'military age males' preparing a roadside bomb she feels a rush of the old excitement. Her knuckles whiten around the joystick. A voice in her ear confirms that the targets are 'guilty'. She fires. Boom. They perish. She watches shorn limbs flying across the scrubland, 10,000 miles away. Guilt, remorse and doubt crowd in on her.

She returns home, having killed, eager to unburden herself to her husband. But she can't. Regulations. In civilian life she's under surveillance too. Shopping with her daughter she scans the ceilings for hidden cameras, which are being monitored by outsourced workers in Asia. She imagines an Indian tourist in America rushing to the nearest store and waving to the spy-cams, saying hi to Bangalore.

Her commanders order her to hunt down a major terrorist, the enemy's number two, nicknamed 'the prophet'. For many days, she tracks his vehicle across the desert. 'I'm following the prophet,' she says with bitter irony. 'But I am God. And you do not speak for me.' However, the prophet, like her, has a small daughter. …

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