Writer: David Haig
Director: John Dove
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
The 1944 Normandy landings proved to be a turning point in World War II. D Day has become so renowned that it would seem a drama about the prospect of Operation Overlord happening at all should have little, to no, suspense.
And to a certain extent that is true in David Haig’s Pressure. Haig also stars as meteorologist James Stagg, tasked with determining whether the weather systems in the North Atlantic will be conducive to the operation going ahead.
The conflicts in Haig’s structure are predictable, Haig’s spiky Scotsman coming into conflict with his slick American counterpart. The play’s sole speaking part for a woman, which goes to Laura Rogers’ Lt Summersby, involves her being the moral support for all the men and being in love with her commanding officer, Malcolm Sinclair’s Eisenhower. And – spoiler alert – the brusque Scotsman who nobody believes even as he rubs them up the wrong way ends up being correct all along.
In any play where the greatest sense of threat comes from the isobars on the maps hoisted at the back of the stage, it’s incumbent on the actors to imbue their characters with enough interest to maintain a full-length play. And while Haig’s dialogue only occasionally sparkles with anything approaching above average fare, both he and Sinclair provide compelling portraits.
Sinclair, in particular, gives an engaging performance as the commander of the European theatre of operations. His Eisenhower is paternal – passionately describing the role of surrogate father he adopts for the young men of his beloved 101st Airborne Division – but also believably managerial as he juggles the conflicting predictions of his meteorological team, in the knowledge that his decision could condemn thousands of servicemen to their deaths with no benefit to the war effort.
Haig’s spiky Stagg, meanwhile, grows into the role as the man whose predictions of storms in the channel – disbelieved by nearly everyone at first – start to come true. A subplot of his wife’s troubled pregnancy (due, inevitably, to high blood pressure) plays into Eisenhower’s own regrets over losing one of his sons at the age of four.
Ultimately, though, there is only so much drama that can be wrought by the movement of low-pressure systems across the Atlantic. As a result, Pressurestruggles to provide much in the way of suspense, either in the repetitive first act or a second which, storm effects aside, has a tendency to the maudlin. In 1994, the stakes were never higher: in 2018, the one thing this play lacks is high pressure.
Continues until 1 September | Image: Robert Day