Writer: David Haig
Director: John Dove
Reviewer: Tom Ralphs
‘How could the weather ever be boring?’ is the question Dr James Stagg asks at the end of this play. While the answer could be ‘if someone talks about it for more than two hours’, thankfully that is not the case with Pressure. It, of course helps, that the weather forecast the play deals with is the one that determined when the D-day landings took place, and that this was not a straightforward decision to make.
At the heart of the play is Dr Stagg, a weather forecaster from Scotland who was brought in to advise General Eisenhower on the weather conditions for the planned day of the invasion. His assessment was that storms would hit on the day. His opposite number, the American meteorologist Colonel Irvine P Krick, disagreed. Using statistics and historical records from three similar days, he predicted clear weather.
While Stagg’s years of knowledge and experience were acknowledged, Krick had the ear of Eisenhower, and, more importantly, was telling the President what he wanted to hear. For more than two days, the battle between the two men played out. Updates from weather stations provided evidence that both men could claim supported their viewpoint. The key difference between their interpretations was that Stagg was British and this was British weather they were dealing with.
The first act of the play brings what could be a very dry topic to life and does indeed make the weather interesting. However, the script suffers from the fact that the debate was little more than two people claiming they were right. Neither man was willing to compromise, and each was backed up completely by their fellow military countrymen. Eventually you almost long for a variation in the tactics to stop the play becoming little more than an extended weather forecast mixed with stereotypical American bullishness and British caution and reserve. The straight telling of history doesn’t allow for this of course, and Stagg being a constant throughout most of the play also works against more light and shade entering the central story.
Thankfully, the second act does widen the story as Stagg’s family come into play and Eisenhower is also presented as a more three-dimensional character, sneaking off to visit the airmen who will take part in the invasion and showing his understanding and compassion in the process. The role played by Eisenhower’s British assistant Kay Summersby also adds a more human element, and characters start to emerge from the facts and statistics they are dealing with.
The acting throughout is strong. All of the actors grasp the importance of the decisions they were making, and, as Stagg, Haig combines humility and quietness with a thorough knowledge of his subject that prevents him from being anything other than honest. It works well against the confident, self-promoting persona of Philip Cairns as Krick. Laura Roberts as Summersby and Malcolm Sinclair as Eisenhower also combine well with an affection, respect and warmth between them that always feels genuine.
It would benefit from some editing to overcome the problem of the absence of real debate and negotiation of what the weather reports meant, but on the whole it makes a dry subject interesting for more than just what was dependant on the forecast.
Runs until 17 February 2018 | Image: Drew Farrell