Talking Movies

September 16, 2015

Grounded

Major Barbara star Clare Dunne dominated the Project’s Space Upstairs in a performance of George Brant’s monologue Grounded as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival.

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Dunne is an unnamed fighter pilot, one of the USAF’s Top Guns; returning minarets in the Middle East to the state of the sands that surround them. Or at least presuming that she does, she’s always miles past her target by the time her missiles hit home. She’s cocky, one of the boys; an intimidating figure to most civilian men, until one man is attracted by her flight suit star-power. Finding herself pregnant she has to stop flying because her unborn daughter would not survive the G-force of the ejector seat being deployed. Three years later reporting for duty she is horrified to find herself permanently grounded. F-16s aren’t being made anymore, it’s all drones now; and she’s retrained for the US Chair Force. Relocating to Las Vegas she longs for the feeling of soaring lethally thru the blue sky…

Dunne’s accent initially startles; co-ordinates are somewhere around Wyoming by way of Texas; but it fits her swaggering character perfectly – a lover of AC/DC, a hater of hair-tossing girls, high on self-mythology, short on self-analysis. She is some kind of American archetype. Almost as bad as flying a drone and not having her own plane is not being a lone wolf anymore; now she has to fly a drone, not her drone, in shifts with other pilots, a teenager beside her controlling the camera, and a team of analysts in her ear okaying when she can strike – her individual lethal agency is gone. Killing is now pushing a button, represented by Dunne’s click of a pen. But now she’s forced to linger on the scenes of her kills… And soon the grey images on her monitor bleed into her home life.

Director Selina Cartmell stages the action on a long narrow platform with the audience facing each other across it. The only props are chairs which Dunne manically rearranges to create varied settings for the different scenes: a fight with her c/o, family drama, the boredom of reconnaissance, the tension of hovering surveillance, and the guilty thrill of danger-free drone-strikes. Davy Cunningham’s dazzling light design, which at one point loses Dunne in darkness while the audience looms up, is combined with a thunderous and brilliant use of AC/DC and Elvis. This is a topical piece, but the personal angst of adjusting to new modes of war is more dramatically interesting than the predictable crisis of conscience; which her husband urges her to leave at the base like his ‘clapping out’ at the end of a casino blackjack shift to clock out.

Brant loads the dramatic dice in this high-stakes Vegas game towards the inevitable hand-wringing, but the final image of Dunne’s warrior finally successfully clapping out remains devastating. ‘Boom…’ indeed.

5/5

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September 8, 2015

El Dschihad

My sometime co-scriptwriter Emmet Ryan has, in an unusual move, taken time out from reviewing beer and customised burgers to catch a play in Berlin. From Ballhaus Naunynstrasse he sends this review of El Dschihad:

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German-Iraqi actress/writer/director Claudia Basrawi takes 70 minutes of her audience’s lives and throws them into a story built around facts but delivered with aggressive and compelling storytelling. The story of El Dschihad is built around interviews Basrawi conducted to get an understanding of Germany’s historical role in the current problems in the Middle East. Basrawi, whose youth brought her to Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, tells the story of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s efforts to get Muslim subjects of the British Empire to rise up against their colonial masters during the First World War. Germany’s ill-fated plan was to use an insurrection in Arab states to divide the attention of British forces.

The piece jumps between discussions of contemporary efforts to battle terrorism and the historical follies of the Kaiser. Despite its documentary format this is very much a drama, albeit a deliberately disjointed one. Despite being the effective lead, Basrawi deliberately takes a back seat instead essentially letting her cast, playing a multitude of roles, take their lead from her cues.

No-one makes greater use of this than Rahel Savoldelli, who is brutally intimidating in multiple formats. Savoldelli’s appearances in the multimedia elements of the performance are nothing less than an attack on the audience. Opening with her interview as a psychiatric patient of Mario Mentrup, acted live in a corner off-stage but broadcast on a larger screen, Savoldelli is aggressive in her deliberate attempts to confuse Mentrup’s supposed straight man. Mentrup does an excellent job in playing the foils to those opposite him, most notably in his primary role as Mr S, a composite character of multiple interviewees of Basrawi, where his character is more direct with his emotions in order to make the cold reality of Elmira Bahrami’s Ms K stand out.

One isn’t meant to like Ms K; she’s got too many right answers, and most of them are ugly; but her calm delivery is arguably as tough on the senses as the intensity of Savoldelli’s pre-recorded piece, reading notes on the plan to convert British POWs into agents of insurgence against the Crown. In this brief but effective monologue, Savoldelli’s head appears like Big Brother albeit with the odd harsh cut to rouse the audience as she details the plans to use Mohammedans against the British Empire.

The mixture of multimedia elements, including an opening that shows contemporary damage to an unnamed city in the Middle East, forces the audience to shift focus but not at the expense of the message. Basrawi is trying to comment on a complex issue from afar, but one that is close to her heart, and does so in a way that doesn’t play as excessively preachy. It’s a tough balance but one delivered well.

4/5

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