Queensland Theatre Company’s latest offering is shocking – in a good way.
Libby Munro plays the Pilot in this one-woman show. Many may groan at the intensity of a one-person performance, but Munro is mesmerising.
The performance space, the Diane Cilento Studio, is new for the company, and it is intimate. The set is stark, just a sloping platform and lighting to support Munro’s telling of the Pilot’s story. There is nothing to distract from the character’s demise.
We first meet the Pilot when she is curled on the stage, stripped of her costume. Her suit – which Munro will peel off and on throughout the night - is no mere prop in this play; like Winston in Castaway the Pilot suit becomes a quasi-character in itself. Without spoiling, the Pilot’s world slowly changes around her in ways she cannot, in the end, surmount.
It is intense, but exhilarating. The audience is tiny, making the performance so personal that it borders on voyeurism. Munro looks audience members directly in the eye as she tells her story, her character communicating on an individual level.
The subject is dark, unquestionably, but with the occasional belly laugh to release the pressure. Not that the tension necessarily needs lightening; the story sucks you in quickly and keeps you spellbound (although the American accent at the beginning can sound a little jarring). The story is further darkened by its context: the war in the Middle East, and the use of drones by US forces. However, both the writing and Munro’s acting are so strong that you leave the theatre both energised and a little shell-shocked.
Whatever your personal views of the war, this story remains a relevant look at the affects on those fighting, those they love, and how they might adapt to life back home. It is particularly pertinent with ever increasing studies on the effects of PTSD and other mental illnesses of those returning home.
Despite its context, this is not just a story about war. It is also a story about the pressures of the 'work-life balance' for modern women, not least the hardcore gonzo life of a US Air Force fighter pilot. It is a love story, and a fundamentally human story. But most of all, it's just a good story. It is an excellent performance, meriting the wrapped silence and standing ovation.
'Grounded' performs Queensland Theatre Company until 22 August.