A cracked exterior

A cracked exterior

27 March 2018

 Steph Sarratt's forceful performance in Grounded deserves a stronger production, says Ava Davies

Steph Sarratt is a chameleon. She stands in front of us, legs planted, chin up, a wry half-smile dancing on her face. So what if we don’t like her? Fuck you. She doesn’t care. She only cares about the blue.

The role of The Pilot is a mercurial, sticky one. She cares too much – not at all. She is too passionate, too cold. She is intensely personal with us but then also feels constantly distant. She wears her flight suit like armour. It curves around her, a shiny, hard green shell. If her eyes betray emotion, it’s flicked away with the turn of her chin. She’s unlikeable, but charismatic. She says things that make you want to scream, take her by the shoulders and shake her. She is unquestioning of her position as a cog in this Moloch-like system that continually and carelessly wreaks havoc and pain on all parts of the world. She prioritises her love of flying above all else, above any thought about the very tangible lives she can and does affect. Until she has a child (I mean, of course. I would prefer to have one female-led narrative without children being involved but I’m conflicted on that whole discussion to be honest), at which point her priorities and her mental health begin to shift. For so much of the play, she seems to remain exactly as is. When the deterioration comes – and it does come, because it has to, because war and violence don’t spare a soul – it cracks and crumbles and she begins to fall away.

Sarratt carries the show deftly, though Qasim Salam’s direction is lacking in the texture and depth that imbues her performance. The production relies on simplistic and dull lighting design to denote differentiation of place that lacks genuine imagination and innovation. It is Sarratt’s play, a showcase for her formidable talents. Her Wyoming accent dips at points but it rarely causes a ripple, which is testament to the force of her presence. The emergence of Sarratt out of The Pilot’s body at the curtain call was shocking – her physicality drops and it’s like she sheds the skin of the trauma in a way that her character is unable to. It’s astonishing, assured and powerful.

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Photo credit: Aenne Pallasca