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Review of David Haig’s play Pressure at Park Theatre

Laura Rogers & David Haig in Pressure. Photo by Robert DayThere are, a London black cab driver once pontificated to me, two things that the British seem obsessed about – in his words, “Utterly, utterly, [expletive] utterly obsessed about. One is the weather. The other is the Second World War.” It’s a sweeping generalisation, of course. Nonetheless, here, in Pressure, those apparent obsessions are combined. Group Captain James Stagg (1900-1975), a meteorologist played by David Haig, persuades General Dwight D. ‘Ike’ Eisenhower (1890-1969, played by Malcolm Sinclair), to change the date of the start of the Allied Invasion of Normandy, commonly known as ‘D-Day’. There are disagreements, particularly between Stagg and Colonel Irving P Krick (1906-1996, played by Philip Cairns): Stagg predicting stormy weather and treacherous sea conditions and Krick predicting blue skies and calm seas.

There are differing accounts of what happened in the run-up to D-Day, and the play makes no reference to a Sverre Petterssen (1898-1974), a Norwegian meteorologist. It was his predictions that proved accurate. I mention Petterssen’s nationality only to place on record that certain American motion pictures in the aftermath of World War Two, claiming USA meteorologists got it right, is incorrect. This play, which asserts that Stagg, a Briton, convinced Eisenhower to postpone D-Day, isn’t historically accurate either. It was a Norwegian who helped the Allies win the war in this regard (that is, Allied casualty numbers would have been higher had Eisenhower rigidly stuck to the original date for D-Day). For whatever reason, Petterssen doesn’t even appear in Pressure, not even as an off-stage character.

A biased slant does not, however, mean the production should be entirely discounted. Indeed, if one is to suspend disbelief, one might as well suspend historical precision at the same time. A very detailed script goes to considerable lengths to convince meteorological laypersons (like yours truly) that these are people who know what, for instance, “42.3 north, 15.4 west, 1029 MB” is supposed to mean. At one point, all the telephones in Stagg’s office are busy with him and his staff taking down the very latest readings from various weather stations and even ships, and a palpable sense of urgency takes hold. This contrasts well with later scenes, when all the planning has been done, leaving the main characters to reflect and engage in as ‘normal’ a conversation as could be reasonably expected in the circumstances.

Time passes quickly, therefore, when the plot dictates it should, and then very slowly later on, furnishing the audience of what it must have been like for the few hours before the first landings in Normandy to sedately tick by unhurriedly. A rather dry but effective humour turns what might have been a dreary state of affairs in which barometers and other devices are being laboriously pored over, day and night, into something remarkably intriguing. The staging is excellent, significantly adding to the narrative in its portrayal of different weather conditions.

A personal matter concerning Stagg’s immediate family may have been a tad melodramatic, though it allows Lieutenant Kay Summersby (1908-1975, played by Laura Rogers) to assert herself before an agitated Eisenhower; the general was keen to stress that the war effort takes precedence over family concerns. There aren’t very many shows that make weather reports look and sound exhilarating, and please don’t let the notion that this one does put you off. The play needs a little trimming, particularly in the second half, but overall, it has a lot going for it. A well-performed production with a surprisingly tasteful comedy element, this is a discerning and different take on a familiar story. Any forecast for a future life for the show beyond this particular run is superfluous: a West End transfer has already been announced, and rightly so.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

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


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