13 August – 3 September 2016

Review by Rosemary McBryde

Provocative, disturbing, challenging.  Grounded by George Brant (staged at the Fortune Theatre, Dunedin), is a play that should inspire the audience to vigorous debate about the morality of war, particularly war that can be fought remotely using the technology of UCAVs  (unmanned combat aerial vehicles) or drones.

Grounded, a high-tech, one-woman show brilliantly performed by Claire Chitham, is the story of an unnamed female fighter pilot who takes a temporary break from the US Air Force to have a baby. Returning to work after three years absence, she is posted to the Nevada Desert to fly drone missions and carry out ‘personality strikes’ over Afghanistan and Iraq.  Furious at the reality of swapping the thrill and freedom of her beloved ‘blue’ for the frustration and disconnection of life in the ‘chair force’, she sits in an air-conditioned trailer staring at the ‘grey’ on her screen for 12 hours at a stretch.

In Grounded, the audience journeys with the fighter pilot as she resists, accepts, embraces and finally is forever changed by her experience of killing at no personal risk to herself, from a time zone 12 hours behind her target yet only 1.2 seconds away from wreaking destruction more reminiscent of a computer game than ‘boots on the ground’ warfare.

I am reminded of the 2015 visit to NCPACS of Laurie Calhoun, author of We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age.   Laurie’s writing argued that the short-term tactical benefits of lethal drones are outweighed by the dangers they pose to individual liberty and democracy.   After seeing this play, I would also posit that the dangers posed by drones are not just to those unfortunate enough to be in front of the cross hairs.