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GROUNDED: FringeWorld 2017 - Review

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by Marisa Quinn-Haisu (subscribe)
My name is Marisa. I am a fiction writer, a blogger, and a freelance journalist.
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Can the Pilot learn to balance motherhood and her career?
Grounded, Perth Fringe Festival 2017, Alison van Reeke, The Blue Room Theatre, George Brant
Alison van Reeken is the Pilot

When I got asked to write this article I had never heard of the play Grounded before. I got onto Google to see what I could find about it. The more I looked into it the more it started to intrigue me. Grounded was written in 2012 by an American playwright called George Brant. Grounded stars just one person: a woman, a mother, and a fighter pilot. She is called the Pilot. Grounded is about how she tries to balance motherhood, married life, and her job as a fighter pilot all at the same time.

Grounded has been a huge success worldwide. It has received positive reviews, been translated into 8 different languages, been involved in over 60 different productions in 17 countries, attracted the attention of Hollywood star Anne Hathaway and it has won a lot of awards. It premiered in Western Australia at the State Theatre Centre of WA on September 13 2016 with Emily McLean directing and Alison van Reeken starring as the Pilot.

Grounded was a hit with the critics and audiences. The Subiaco Post said "The writing is honest, the language is vivid and the performance exceptional" and the West Australian commented on Alison's performance calling it "Uncompromising, technically flawless and emotionally convincing." Grounded is returning to the State Theatre Centre of WA with Emily McLean directing and Alison van Reeken revising her role as the Pilot for Fringe Festival 2017. It will run from the 31st of Jan to the 4th of February with tickets costing $24 dollars.

The Pilot is a fierce and wonderful force of nature

Alison van Reeken understands the Pilot well. The Pilot is a woman who is extremely passionate about her job. She is called the Pilot because she loves to be "up in the blue" sitting behind the controls of her plane. The only time she ever feels at peace is when she is lost in the vastness of the blue. Alison is stunning as the Pilot. She walks and talks like a member of the Air Force. She is not a girly girl. Oh god no. She demands to be taken seriously at all times. "I earned my suit through sweat and brains and guts," she tells the audience.

The Pilot wears her flight suit like an emotional suit of armour. It is what makes her feel strong, confident and sexy. She is one of the boys in her suit. One of the team. And when she is up in the blue in her plane she feels like a god damn god. One thing I really liked about the show was how the production used lighting to express the Pilot's mood. When she talks about being in the blue she gets hit with a powerful blue spotlight. When she speaks about her job the lighting can be grey or white. It was perfectly synchronised and really helped to bring the show to life.

When the Pilot falls pregnant unexpectedly her entire life changes. It wasn't something she planned for but she embraces it. She knows she can't continue her job while pregnant. It's too dangerous. "I want the sky, but I can't kill her," she tells the audience, referring to her unborn child. She gives up her flight suit and her life as a pilot and reluctantly settles into a domestic life at home with her husband and child. The Pilot is happy enough but can't help but miss her old life. She points to the sky and tells her daughter "See that? That's the sky. That's where Mummy lives."

After a three year break, the Pilot can't resist the call of the blue anymore and decides to return to work. A lot has changed since she has been gone. She is told she won't be flying a plane anymore. She is assigned to the "chair force" which is a group of pilots who sit in an air conditioned room and use computers to operate drones that are acting in foreign airspace. The Pilot is angry. She asks if she is being punished for getting pregnant. Her superiors tell her that's not it. This is just how thinks are now. She will work a 12 hour shift every day and then be able to go home to her daughter and husband in the evening. How good does that sound? Work life balance! The Pilot agrees…reluctantly. Has she found a silver lining?

Grounded, Perth Fringe Festival 2017, Alison van Reeke, The Blue Room Theatre, George Brant
The Pilot dreams of returning to her blue

Adapting to her new job is difficult. The Pilot doesn't find it as thrilling as being up in the blue. Her days are spent looking down into a computer screen. It's not like playing video games. There is no colour. Just grey. Nothing but dull, dull grey. And it's boring. God, it's so boring. Hours and hours of staring at nothing.

Over time the stress of new her job starts to eat at her. When she was a fighter pilot she would drop a bomb and then be long gone before it would detonate. She never saw the aftermath. She never saw the carnage. She was a professional just doing her job. She didn't let herself think about the lives that she was ending. She didn't let emotion get involved. She would just move on to another target. It was a game and she played it well. Excitement and adrenaline used to be her co-pilots.

The drones operate very differently. They do not leave an area after dropping a bomb but instead stay behind and record video footage of the aftermath. What she sees shocks her and puts a crack in her armour. Bodies on the ground and limbs flying through the air. The Pilots starts to question the morality of what she is doing and beings to develop empathy for the people that she is bombing. Is she doing the right thing?

I really enjoyed Grounded. It's not often the story of war is told from the point of view of a woman. As a Mum, I wondered if I would be able to return to work after having kids so I really sympathised with the Pilot and her struggles to find worklife balance. If you're planning on going to Fringe Festival this year I highly recommend this show.

Grounded, Perth Fringe Festival 2017, Alison van Reeke, The Blue Room Theatre, George Brant
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*Marisa Quinn-Haisu was invited as a guest
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Why? Grounded is an award winning play about motherhood and politics and modern warfare
When: 31st of Jan to the 4th of Feb
Phone: (08) 9227 6288
Where: 174-176 William Street, State Theatre Centre of Western Australia Perth, 6000 WA
Cost: $24 a ticket
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