“To work, the war, whatever..” grumbles the grounded fighter pilot, her wings pinned by unplanned pregnancy, the new order of technological warfare and the Chairforce badge piercing her flight suit. Plucked out of the sky by the powers that be with the affirmation that, one million dollars of flight training aside, this is the real war, she now spends twelve hour shifts staring down at a distant desert, identifying enemies in a greyscape of trembling pixels.
At home, all pink ponies and cheery domesticity, the world of her daughter and husband who she starts off sure she’s fighting for but later loses across the widening chasm between her civilian life and the remote, but very real, conflict. Deafinitely Theatre’s staging of George Brant’s monologue utilises two performers, Charmaine Wombwell and Nadia Nadarajah, who speak and sign respectively – a perfect indicator of the tectonic split within the unnamed protagonist.
Whilst Brant’s text has the pilot holding herself close and closed, rolling her eyes at the “true corn, true cheese” of her marital bliss. Nadarajah’s performance in British Sign Language cuts through Wombwell’s armoury of cool reserve and sardonic detachment to something more raw and revealing. Her gestures lend a musicality to Brant’s blunt, lean phrases, amping up the instances of humour and horror.
The stage is bare, with a line of screens in the background quite needlessly echoing certain images, but it is the syncopation between the two performers that is the central intrigue of this staging. As the actors weave and wonder, sharing glances of collusion or confusion, they mesmerically convey the pilot’s doomed struggle to seal up – mother and militarised machine – into a unified self. Our gaze veers and darts between the two as they join and part, the signing somehow doubling, sometimes doubting, the speech. At times, their combined energy heightens to a frenzy, as in the adrenalin fuelled power rush of a successful strike. At other moments, the gestures soothe: the mother kisses her daughter goodnight, the soldier lays offerings on a makeshift memorial for fallen comrades.
The unravelling of our protagonist(s), from all-seer to walking wounded, might be predictable but it remains affecting. In the control room, the now vengeful pilot (a watched eye, a one woman weapon of mass destruction) surveys her terrain. Wombwell peers over Nadarajah’s shoulder, wide-eyed, all tension. They could be kids squabbling over a computer game, but they certainly aren’t, even as the almost cartoonish ‘boom’ that Nadarajah signs renders the fatal explosions almost comical and nearly harmless. “The threat of death has been removed from our lives,” repeats Wombwell, mantra-like, a failed cleansing ritual. As more drones than ever hover over zones of conflict, Deafinitely Theatre’s response is a work of incremental, yet lacerating, power.