Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

13/08/2016 - 03/09/2016

Production Details

A fighter pilot’s struggle with motherhood, marriage and being “grounded” 

Featuring renowned NZ actor Claire Chitham, this is a powerful, riveting and rhythmical play written by American playwright George Brant. Grounded was a sell-out at the Edinburgh Festival in 2013, where it received a coveted Fringe First Award. This award recognises the best new writing in the world’s largest arts event.

”George Brant’s writing is compelling” The Telegraph

Through a unique collaboration with Otago Polytechnic design students, Grounded offers audiences an immersive experience that combines a first-class theatre production with film, animation and projection. 

Claire Chitham (Waverley in Shortland Street and Aurora in Outrageous Fortune) plays a hot-rod F16 fighter pilot who becomes unexpectedly pregnant, ending her exhilarating career in “the blue”. Now she commutes to war, working 12-hour shifts in an air-conditioned trailer near Las Vegas, flying remote-controlled drones over the Middle East hunting terrorists by day, and going home to be a wife and mother by night. As the pressure to find a high-profile target builds, the boundaries between the desert where she lives and the one she patrols half-a-world away begin to blur with dramatic consequences.

Claire says, “I’m so excited that I get to bring this topical, unique show to the Dunedin audience. I hope that Grounded will get people talking about some very present-day issues. It’s a powerful play that brings up challenges and realities that we face today as a society – from modern warfare to motherhood.”

Director Jonathon Hendry says, “Grounded has become a theatrical sensation around the world, including a production starring Anne Hathaway Off-Broadway last year. It’s wonderful to have Claire, an actress of great skill and humanity, join us here at Fortune in what must be one of the best parts written for women in recent memory. Working with students from Otago Polytechnic to create an exciting digital world has confirmed the relevancy and appeal this play has to younger audiences. With Grounded we aim to push out theatrical boundaries and fully immerse our audiences in a thrilling experience.”

Phil Kerr, Chief Executive of the Otago Polytechnic says, ““We’re delighted to have worked alongside Fortune Theatre to bring to life and promote the production of Grounded. This has been a wonderful opportunity for our students to gain valuable professional experience and for our staff to contribute their expertise to benefit the community.  We look forward to the prospect of partnering again on future productions.”

Find out more about Grounded at

Venue: Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin

Production Dates: 13 August – 3 September, 2016

Lunchtime Bites: Thursday, 4 August, 12.30pm in the Dunedin Public Library, ground floor. The actor will perform an excerpt from Grounded and there is an opportunity to win tickets followed by afternoon tea. This is a FREE event.

Opening Night: Saturday, 13 August, 7.30pm, Fortune Theatre.

Members’ Briefing: Sunday, 14 August. Meet at the Fortune bar at 3.00pm and join Director Jonathon Hendry for a lively informal chat about Grounded.

Forum: Tuesday, 16 August. Join the cast and crew for an open question and answer session following the 6.00pm show.

Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes (no interval)

Performances: Tuesday, 6.00pm; Wednesday-Saturday, 7.30pm; Sunday, 4.00pm


Adults $45

Early Bird (booking 1 month in advance) $37.50

Opening Week Ticket (Sunday-Thursday) $37.50

Senior Citizens/Community Services Card $35

Fortune Theatre Members $32

Tertiary Students $22 (2-for-1 tickets on Wednesdays with ID)

High School Students $17.50

Group Discount (6+) $35

Bookings: 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin | 03 4778323 | | @fortunetheatre

Theatre , Solo ,

Anonymity of warfare

Review by Barbara Frame 15th Aug 2016

The Pilot, otherwise nameless, used to fly a fighter jet, raining bombs on minarets, buildings and people, powering away before the boom sounded.

Now she’s a drone pilot, working from a base in Nevada, tailing people thousands of miles away and getting a good look at them before pressing the button.

She finds it exhilarating.

For an hour and a-half, she tells the audience about her husband and daughter, their life in soulless Las Vegas and her daily drive across a desert not unlike the one she will watch on a screen when she gets to work. [More]


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Truly absorbing, uplifting, cathartic

Review by Terry MacTavish 15th Aug 2016

I enter the theatre fully expecting to dislike the woman whom I am about to meet.  Not my guest (a lovely long-lost cousin) but someone who has chosen to dedicate her life to destruction in the name of patriotism: an ace fighter pilot who, after an unplanned pregnancy, is redeployed as a drone operator, visiting death from ‘the eye in the sky’ on America’s perceived enemies in the Middle East.

I have revisited my 2010 review of Allen Hall’s stunning My Name is Rachel Corrie, the true story of a very different American woman (played by Nadya Shaw Bennett) who gives her life in an attempt to help the people of Palestine, and I am recharged with the anger it created in me that killing should ever be condoned, let alone glorified.  The Fortune itself in 2013 had hammered home the message in our own John Broughton’s searing indictment of the Vietnam War, Michael James Manaia, powerfully enacted by Te Kohe Tuhaka (a Taki Rua Production).  

This Grounded is the play that amongst its many awards boasts the 2012 Smith Prize for works about American Politics. What possible justification might it offer for the aggressive foreign policy of a country that can envisage Donald Trump as President?

But the Fortune’s brilliant True Grit series has never yet let me down, and I am swept aloft by Grounded, which challenges, repels, and ultimately rewards us with a powerful theatrical experience. Feel-good, laugh-a-minute froth is all very well but oh, the thrill of getting to grips with something that really matters! Playwright George Brant has said it blew his mind to realise that technology had advanced to the point where drones could be flown from America, that it was only a one second delay before the drone responded in Afghanistan (or wherever the next war was to be fought).

Drones have a certain sinister fascination: nasty little flying objects that can spy or kill with no apparent human involvement. Despite a radio journalist this very afternoon announcing brightly, “Drones can be used for good too” – yes, I can imagine a mercy dash of medical supplies – they do strike me as the stuff of dystopian science fiction nightmares.

The video game players of the coming generation feel differently however, and this is where the Fortune, its talented and experienced production team working under director Jonathon Hendry, has been very clever indeed. Last year’s fantastic collaboration with the University of Otago’s Theatre Studies Dept on Punk Rock has inspired a similar alliance, this time with the Otago Polytechnic’s Design Communication Dept, manipulating the latest technology to create a thrilling immersive experience.  The digital design combines with Martyn Roberts’ lighting and Matthew Morgan’s sound to produce a total effect that is extraordinary.

The starkly beautiful set designed by Peter King features four screens curving like a giant visor behind a platform angled towards us, where our fighter pilot crouches in her cherished flying suit.  Working for months, film lecturer Jon Wilson and his third year students Christopher Clapham and Joshua Hunter have managed to source no fewer than one hundred and ninety-seven film clips. These bring an exciting realism to the play, whether we are seeing the serene blue sky the pilot loves when she’s in the air force, or the grainy grey desert images she peers at when she is obliged to become part of the contemptuously named chair force. Sometimes the images spill onto the floor – watch for the amazing effect of the target vehicle beneath her feet – or are accompanied by a wild burst of music, “Viva Las Vegas!”

Naturally all of this whizz-bang technology would go for nothing if the central character of the fighter pilot failed to measure up.  Actor Claire Chitham’s delicate beauty, combined with our nostalgic memories of bubbly, girlish Waverley, Chitham’s warm-hearted and dim-witted Shortland St character, hardly seem to equip her for the role of a tough, staunch fighter pilot. Wrong again. Chitham is an intrepid actor who plunges into the demanding role with a determination that is impressive – never tell me that facing a hugely expectant full house, to deliver a monologue of an hour and twenty minutes, doesn’t take as much courage as flying a fighter plane!  Director Hendry has ensured the various elements of this ambitious production come together smoothly to support his solo performer, whose virtuosity enthrals the audience from the start.  

Chitham convincingly recreates her meeting with sweet Eric, one of the rare men who is not intimidated by her, but instead ‘kisses me like the rock star I am’ and is turned on by the flying suit. Their sex scenes are vigorous and funny, and when the result is a daughter who’s mad about My Little Pony, Chitham shows her to us too, picking up the imaginary child to demand sternly, “Are you a hair-tosser after all?!”  The air force’s post-baby plans for the Major take the family to Las Vegas (“Same war, different desert, different desert, same war…”). Now Chitham persuades us that we are entombed with her in the nerve-centre of long-distance warfare, skilfully operating her drone, playing God as the eye in the sky that judges and executes. We watch spellbound as she enters into her own dark night of the soul.

Brant’s splendidly crafted script provides a rollicking rhythm, and Chitham maintains a robust pace that builds convincingly from the unnamed pilot’s appalling nonchalance over her missions (”I return structures to sand, to desert”) to the gripping climax when her ability to visit casual destruction on fellow human beings is compromised by her love for her own child.  Chitham revels in the lovely metaphorical language, subtly giving “Desert” its due, and as the pilot loses her grip on reality, “Grounded” also reveals  another meaning.  She sustains her remarkable focus and intensity as the little family’s safe domestic world takes on the drab grey of the screens, colour chillingly ebbing even from the child.

It’s hard to sympathise with a woman for whom empathy is the enemy.  She didn’t have to choose combat. The thrill and the wide blue sky would still be there if she were flying search and rescue missions in Fiordland. But although this is a girl who desperately wants to be one of the boys, it is her woman’s body that betrays her, first through her delightfully lusty passion for Eric, then by the protective maternal feelings their child arouses.

Her inner strife is more interesting to me than the question of the morality of drone warfare.  After all, ever since the first Neanderthal threw a rock at another, people have been inventing weapons that make it easier to dissociate themselves from the violence they perpetrate. I wonder how many in the audience are aware that Saturday 6 August was Hiroshima Day, and eight days later, the 14th August, the day in 1945 that Japan surrendered, crushed by the bombing that ‘ended’ WW11.

So my feelings about drone warfare and American policy are not changed by Grounded – I was more provoked by Fortune’s Time Stands Still, about the ethics of war photo-journalism – but the struggle each individual has with their own conscience, ah, now that is eternally absorbing.  It is Chitham’s strongly realised interpretation of her nameless character’s agonising dilemma that strikes home for me.

My guest is enraptured. Under cover of the prolonged, respectful applause, she shouts, “It was brilliant – I’m exhausted!”  Perfect, I assure her, a cathartic response to truly absorbing and uplifting theatre. Congratulations to all concerned.


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