Writer: David Haig
Director: John Dove
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
There can not be many occasions when a packed theatre audience is on the edge of its seat and then bursts into a rousing round of applause at three actors reading out meteorological data received over the telephone. But that is exactly what happens at David Haig’s Pressure in the Minerva in Chichester and this particular scene, two thirds of the way through the production, and the audience reaction to it, encapsulates what makes Haig’s play such a splendid evening’s entertainment.
Rather like the plots of Columbo, everyone knows the outcome at the beginning but, despite this, the audience is drawn inexorably into the tension and indeed the Pressureof the title. This is achieved by Haig’s very skilful writing (which includes, surprisingly perhaps for the subject material, some funny lines), very clever direction by John Dove (including the aforementioned three line phone conversations) and extremely good acting by the whole cast from minor performers to principal players. Indeed the effect is so good that the relief when the expected outcome ensues is overwhelming.
In essence it is a very simple true story which tells of the days immediately before D Day and of the conflict between the celebrated American meteorological expert Irving Crick, played suitably brashly by Tim Beckmann, who predicts benign weather and his British opposite number Dr James Stagg, played by Haig himself, a weather boffin with revolutionary ideas who predicts dire conditions and then the all-important window when the invasion might be launched. But interwoven with this tale Haig manages to incorporate many of the issues that must have surrounded war time existence. The high intensity and the exhaustion of life, the alternating despair and elation, the conflict and the camaraderie, the pressure and tension of decision making and perhaps most poignantly of all the fact that after it life returns to a sometimes anticlimactic and often harsh but much changed normality.
The whole thing is cleverly put together. Haig’s atmospheric writing of wartime austerity is complemented by the bare, functional set from Colin Richmond (how remarkable that the whole audience holds its breath as the last one of those huge synoptic charts is rushed in by the orderlies). Philip Pinsky’s adept use of period music and the essential weather effects help to create the tense atmosphere and Dove’s direction keeps the whole play moving as rapidly as that crucial L6 Depression.
It is an acting tour de force too by Haig, on stage for all but one scene, who portrays the obsessed, difficult and distressed Stagg as he is thrown uncomfortably into the cauldron of world-important decision making. But he is given a run for his money by Malcolm Sinclair who manages to recreate a good deal of the power and charisma that must have surrounded Eisenhower and even more so by Laura Rogers who plays Kay Summersby, Eisenhower’s secretary, with a delightful touch of sensitivity as well as hard-nosed organisational skill.
On the eve of the D Day 70th anniversary what a joy it is to be able to relate such a good production and, moreover, the Met Office should award Haig a medal for providing his audience with a far greater understanding of British weather in one evening than that gained in years of listening to the forecast on the BBC
Photo: Drew Farrell | Runs until28th June 2014