Douglas Mayo reviews Pressure starring and written by David Haig now playing at the Ambassadors Theatre.
What part did the weather play in the planning for the D-Day invasion in World War 2? David Haig’s play Pressure examines the fickle nature of weather at a time when there were no high tech satellite imagery, just weather balloons and weather reports from ships scattered around the Atlantic. How big a role did pure gut instinct and experience play int he forecasts and how accuratrely could that weather be forecast long term? It also examines what happens when in a joint USA-UK operation where each side had their own meteorologist both put forth diametrically opposed points of view.
Pressure offers insight into Dr James Stagg, a canny Scotsman who stands his ground against Eisenhower and advises the postponement of D-Day after years oplanning. Stagg is not only concerned with the lives of the armed servicement involved in D-Day but with his wife who is about to give birth under difficult circumstances, a heavy burden for any man to bear. David Haig plays Stagg with a fiery intensity, frustrated but as sure as he can be given his intimate knowledge of European weather. You can’t help but quietly root for the home team. It’s a truthful, multi-layered portrayal of a man who is taken to the brink under enormous strain but whose belief in science is his rock.
Malcolm Sinclair’s Eisenhower is as brash and commanding as you could hope for. He’s faced with trusting a friend or taking advise from a man who is on the verge of scuppering a chance to end the war. His single minded-focus allows for some great dramatic clashes when contrasted with the characters surrounding him. You can see the agonising and frustration steaming out of the man as he faces potentially giving the green light to what could be a military disaster. It’s a decision not helped by Philip Cairns’ Colonel Krick, a brash American who seems to be bending historical record to suit his forecast and dismissing other data out of hand as irrelevant or imagined. The early scenes between Haig and Cairns are electric and really get Pressure off to a roaring start.
Laura Rogers as Kay Summersby provides a buffer in this masculine world. It’s a wonderfully painted portrayal of that quintissential stiff-upper-lipped Britishness. Summersby knows that this war will not be won on brawn alone and in her own small way makes sure that her contribution is very distinctively her own. I found it hard not to be moved to the brink of tears a few times by Rogers passionate portrayal of this character.
Pressure is a large cast for a commercial play in the West End and its talented ensemble keep the pace and suspense going throughout. Apart from a tiny lag towards the end of the play I sat glued to the drama as it unfolded. I had been completely unaware of this chapter in history and its principal player but it won me over completely.
John Dove’s production with information aplenty about high and low pressure systems, barometric readings, slip streams and weather stats took me back to my high school geography classes wishing they’d been presented in such an exciting way. Who knew that the weather forecast could make for a suspenseful and riveting night in the theatre?