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September 1, 2013 9:56 pm
Not everyone loves drones. Certain pilots hate them. They prefer “the blue”. Fly an F-16, if you dare. Fly an “unmanned aerial vehicle” from some base in Nevada – as a member of the “Chair Force” – and you’ll be quite safe. Broadly speaking, jets are manlier than drones. Except that “manly” is the wrong word here, because the pilot in George Brant’s monologue is a woman played by the excellent Lucy Ellinson.
At war, she out-guys the guys. But then she goes on leave, falls in love, has a baby and has to ditch her Fighting Falcon (precious “Tiger”) for a drone. War is now commutable – so it’s off to fight by day and home at night, without any threat of danger. It sounds perfect.
Then home and war begin to merge and the situation is no longer perfect.
On stage, drone warfare looks like a doddle – for the drone warrior. It also looks like murder. Our pilot is lethal and indestructible. And knowledge of this seeps inside her soul. She adopts the language of the Old Testament – she is a “drone-god” who “smites the guilty”.
Behind all that, her drone war (“shift work” from an air-conditioned trailer 8,000 miles from the real battlefield) looks impossibly banal. Remove risk and you remove valour. Computerised conflict is reduced to “flying body parts” viewed on a grey screen two continents away. Military romance is gone.
Feminist issues are also embedded in Brant’s political play. How should mummy spend her time? Playing ponies with little Sam or bombing bearded men? “I was born for this,” she says. “But I was born for that too.” In its bare essentials, this dilemma isn’t new, but it is relevant and interestingly picked at here.
Director Christopher Haydon controls the rhythm tightly. And Brant’s dialogue is bright and textured. Snappy storytelling is punctured by dark edges, mess-hall humour and bursts of lyrical beauty.
Ellinson combines an obnoxious machismo front with deep – and escalating – vulnerability. It’s hard to love a character who tries so hard to be a war thug, but there is softness too, a certain naive joy about her. The performance is deft, brave and stirring.
Until September 28, www.gatetheatre.co.uk
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