Caught between Blue and Grey: Siobhan Hodge reviews ‘Grounded’, performed by Alison van Reeken

Grounded is playing at the Blue Room Theatre, Northbridge WA from 13 September to 1 October

grounded-no-plane-website-760x485Grounded tackles the grimly disconnected reality of drone warfare, pairing this with the increasingly isolated state of the speaker, a former fighter pilot who has been relegated to drone piloting after going on maternity leave. Performed by Alison van Reeken and directed by Emily McLean, the powerful performance interspersed with grey drone footage and silent on-screen explosions, contrasted sharply with blasts of AC/DC and Guns ‘n Roses when the main character is in her element, this is a performance of contrasts and sharp realisations.

When The Pilot, a female fighter pilot in the US air force, becomes pregnant and has to leave “the blue” of the sky – emblematic of her senses of freedom, identity, and solidarity – her problems only escalate. Returning to the force after three years of maternity leave, the speaker learns that she has now been relegated to “the chair-force”. Reluctantly, she accepts the role as a drone pilot, and slowly derails into a more and more paranoid state of being. Moving from an active war-zone to the 12-hour shifts before returning “home” to suburban Las Vegas, The Pilot is beset with bitterness and burgeoning paranoia. The character’s preferred AC/DC is overlapped with Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” and her daughter’s beloved pony cartoon theme.

The Pilot is brusque, assertive and confident, but demonstrates clear signs of internalised misogyny. However, the main conflicts of this performance do not stem from a motherhood/self-hood divide. Motifs of surveillance and control, paired with the depersonalised nature of drone warfare in contrast to the active and absorbing reality of being a fighter pilot, drain the speaker down to a nervously reactive husk of herself. People become “guilty”, judged by the Gorgon’s Eye of the drone, and the increasingly disassociated Pilot herself.

Darkly humorous, sharp and starkly confronting, Grounded has real moments of poetic expression and delicacy. The speaker grimly compares herself to a vengeful god in the sky when she pilots the drones, but becomes terrified of her daughter being smote as one of the “guilty” by another surveying presence. Grounded is a call for immediacy and accountability, confronting the potential for horrors both internal and external in this new form of warfare, as well as painting a compelling portrait of the need for individuality.

 – Siobhan Hodge

Grounded is playing at the Blue Room Theatre, Northbridge WA from 13 September to 1 October, 7pm. AUSLAN is available on 20 September. Tickets are available here.



Siobhan Hodge has a doctorate from the University of Western Australia in English. Her thesis focused on Sappho’s legacy in English translations. She is an Associate Editor at Rochford Street Review, Reviews Editor for Writ Review, and contributing reviewer for Cordite. Born in the UK, she divides her time between Australia and Hong Kong. Her chapbook of reflections on Sappho, Picking Up the Pieces, was published in 2012 as part of the Wide Range Chapbooks series. She has also had poetry and criticism published in several places, including Westerly, Limina, Colloquy, Cordite, Plumwood Mountain, Page Seventeen, Yellow Field, Peril, Verge, and Kitaab.

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