Pros: High dramatic tension, outstanding performances and a taut, witty script.
Cons: Some loss of pace in the second half.
It is 2nd June 1944, at the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Portsmouth. In just 65 hours time, British and American forces are due to begin the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy. The weather has been fine and sunny for weeks, and Colonel Irving Krick thinks it will continue in this vein. He’s the meteorologist who predicted fine weather for the filming of Gone with the Wind, and has been General Eisenhower’s go-to weatherman throughout the war.
But as a concession to the allied nature of the invasion, Eisenhower drafts in British meteorologist Dr James Stagg, a curmudgeonly Scot who sees weather as a three-dimensional force, rather than just the two dimensions of the charts and archives so beloved by Krick. The jet stream, Krick believes, is a fantasy; yet it is this stream of high altitude winds that Stagg is convinced will bring torrential rain, unruly seas and gale force winds on D-Day, rendering any chance of a successful invasion impossible.
Stagg is played with a fiery intensity by David Haig, who you’ll recognise from countless TV appearances; most recently in the critically panned remake of Yes, Minister. He shines in this role, a part he created for himself when writing the play.
Malcolm Sinclair is a towering, tyrannical Eisenhower, frustrated and bewildered by the conflicting advice his two meteorologists are giving him. All he wants is a definite yes or no, but as Stagg informs him: “Nothing is predicable about British weather. That’s why we love to talk about it.”
As Eisenhower piles on the pressure, Stagg becomes more entrenched in his prediction but more doubtful of his own certainty: he has to make a decision which could either end the war or result in the deaths of 350,000 allied troops. “I’m a scientist, for God’s sake, not a gambler.”
The pressure of the title is threefold: the high and low pressure fronts moving across the Atlantic; the psychological pressure on Stagg to advise whether to cancel or delay the invasion; and, in a neat twist, the revelation of Stagg’s wife’s dangerously high blood pressure as she’s on the point of giving birth.
Laura Rogers gives a feisty performance as Lieutenant Kay Summersby, Eisenhower’s secretary, driver and gofer, who occasionally wears Churchill’s castoff shell suit, complete with burn holes where he dropped his cigar. She provides an emotional sounding board for both Stagg and Eisenhower, and frankly admits that she loves the war and dreads “the beginning of the end” that D-Day heralds.
Pressure is a powerful, engaging piece of theatre, with outstanding performances from the cast of 11 (which includes the allied commanders in chief and assorted functionaries and secretaries). Some have dual roles: Michael Mackenzie has few lines as Admiral Bertie Ramsay, but shines in his comic turn as the retired electrician who’s not allowed to leave because he’s seen too much.
The star of the show, of course, is David Haig, not only for his passionate performance but for his taut, effective script, which produces real dramatic tension. The play could perhaps do with ten minutes trimmed from the sometimes maudlin wind-down in the second half, but overall it’s in an engaging and compelling piece of theatre.
Author: David Haig
Director: John Dove
Producer:Jonathan Church Productions and Oliver Mackwood
Booking Until: 28 April 2018
Box Office: 020 7870 6876
Booking Link: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/pressure