Wednesday 21 March 2018

Review: Drone drops a massive moral payload

Theatre: Grounded, Project Arts Centre

Lady pilot: Clare Dunne shoots drones into Afghanistan in Grounded at the Tiger Dublin Fringe
Lady pilot: Clare Dunne shoots drones into Afghanistan in Grounded at the Tiger Dublin Fringe

Katy Hayes

George Brant's 75-minute monologue play concerns a female US Army pilot who is removed from active flying following the birth of her child. She now controls lethal drones from the "Chairforce" in the Nevada desert. Produced all over the world, the play has been garlanded with awards.

In this Siren Productions Irish premiere, Clare Dunne plays The Pilot as a hard chaw, with deep registered Southern drawl. A creeping moral dread starts to take hold of her, prompted by the sheer remoteness of her new role as a drone pilot, and the softening effect of having a young daughter.

Selina Cartmell's direction is impeccable. Dunne conveys her physical frustration with sprints along the stage, and careful building and unbuilding of stacked chairs; she expertly constructs a crisis.

Joe Vanek's set is a long industrialised ramp with audience on both sides, a shape Cartmell has used effectively before. Inlaid floor lighting and clever effects by lighting designer Davy Cunningham are state-of-the-art. At a point of maximum moral confrontation, the stage grows dark and the audience becomes brightly lit. Consider yourself, audience member, the moral spotlight is on you now! You cannot hide in the snug auditorium dark.

Biblical in tone, the action is set in the desert near Las Vegas, and the drone is operating in an unspecified desert in the Middle East.

There are references to prophets and gods, and to the smiting of the guilty; we are firmly in the grip of an American preacher. American playwrights wage morality with as much righteous conviction as their army wages war.

The play delivers its moral payload. The audience is chastened but has little complexity to untangle. And whilst compelling and admirable, finally we are left applauding the self-righteousness.

Irish Independent

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