David Haig’s play Pressure at Park Theatre | Review
Any time you fancy doing something that involves leaving home, what do you do? You check the weather. Be it, watching a forecast on the TV, hearing it on the radio, checking on your phone or reading it in the paper, we all rely on a dedicated team of forecasters to let us know if the BBQ is on or if we are sitting in watching Bad TV this bank holiday. Now, for a moment turn your thoughts to the forecaster. If they get it right, then nobody remembers, but if they get it wrong, then they are never allowed to forget it – Michael Fish’s 1987 hurricane for example. Ultimately, we rely on the weather forecast most days to decide what we will wear or where we will be going. But imagine if you need to know the weather before going ahead with something not just important but which could ultimately change the course of human history and just think about what it would be like to be the person tasked with producing that forecast. That’s the situation facing one man in David Haig’s play Pressure at the Park Theatre.
June 1944 and there is a new arrival in room 6, first floor, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. His name is Group Captain Dr James Stagg (David Haig) and he very quickly establishes his authority in his room. Stagg is the foremost meteorologist in the UK, and his job is a simple one. All he has to do is work out if the weather is going to be good enough for General Eisenhower (Malcolm Sinclair) to launch the Allied invasion of Europe – or ‘D-Day’ as it is known. Stagg has a lot of help to prepare his forecast, not only from Flight Lieutenant Andrew Carter (Bert Seymour), but also Colonel Irving P Krick (Philip Cairns), his meteorological equivalent in the US Air Force. The two men seem to be well acquainted, but have vastly different opinions on how weather forecasts should be put together and what the current sunny weather means for the future. Also part of the team is Lieutenant Kay Summersby (Laura Rogers) the General’s driver, secretary and general all found factotum who manages to get over her initial rather negative thoughts about Stagg from when she first met him and comes to admire, the small nondescript man. As the day goes on, it becomes clear that Stagg has problems, the main one being that he has news to give to Ike. News that the General will not only not like but have difficulty in believing.
The first thing to say about Pressure is that while it is based on real-life events, this is a dramatisation of those events. The historical record around the Met Office’s – not to mention everyone else’s – involvement in the preparation for ‘D-Day’ is rather shaky. However, all the characters in the play were present at the time and played some part in the events of the 2nd-6th June 1944. The story itself is well written and moves along nicely in the first half. If I’m honest, I did feel some of the momentum was lost during Act II with slightly too much emphasis being placed on the human side of the various protagonists.
A lot of work has gone into Colin Richmond’s set with the various giant forecast maps dominating everything, constantly drawing all eyes back to them as the time moves closer to the final decision on go/no go. John Dove makes full use of the Park’s performing space and gives the entire production a very British feel, but without being too much of a pastiche of stiff upper lip Brits and overly brash Americans. There are nice human touches and the inclusion of Summersby – obviously in love with her boss – is a nice touch that keeps a very male-heavy environment on a pretty even keel. Believe me, Laura Rogers’ version of Kay is more than a match for any of the men.
The cast were really good and David Haig was excellent as Stagg. Similarly, Malcolm Sinclair put in an extremely good performance as Eisenhower, the man given the ultimate authority to decide the fate of over 300,000 service personnel. Not an easy job, and one that sits firmly on Ike’s shoulders. Malcolm nicely demonstrates Eisenhower’s command capability and occasional vulnerable side as he and Summersby manage to catch a couple of minutes between meetings. All in all, everyone feels pretty authentic and the various relationships work nicely.
Overall, Pressure is a telling of a version of true events that possibly could be accurate, probably isn’t but ultimately makes for a very interesting and entertaining production.
Review by Terry Eastham
72 hours prior to the D Day landings, Scottish meteorologist, Group Captain James Stagg, advises General Eisenhower on the weather conditions likely to prevail when 350,000 troops are to be sent across the Channel in Operation Overlord. With Stagg predicting severe storms and Irving P. Krick – Hollywood’s meteorological movie consultant – predicting beautiful weather, the future of Britain, Europe and the United States rests on one single forecast.
Pressure was originally commissioned by The Lyceum in Edinburgh as a co-production with Chichester Festival Theatre. The production premiered at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in 2014, followed by a run at Chichester Festival Theatre.
Venue: PARK200, Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, N4 3JP
Press night: Tuesday 3 April, 7pm
Dates: Wed 28 March – Sat 28 April 2018