Operation Overlord was a planned invasion of Normandy by allied troops which began on June 6th and is better known as D-Day. The invasion was one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history that required extensive planning with 350,000 lives depending on what was arguably the most important weather forecast of all time. Eisenhower initially selected June 5th as the date for the invasion, however bad weather on the days leading up to the operation caused it to be delayed for 24 hours.
Much has been recorded on film, page and stage about the invasion. Less has been featured about why the delay was agreed to and the vital role weathermen played in the historic event. However this is rectified by the meticulously researched Pressure, written by and starring David Haig.
He plays Group Captain James Stagg, a dour Scottish Royal Air Force meteorologist seconded to the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Portsmouth. The play begins with his energetic arrival on June 2nd and moves forward in periods of time reflected by the changing weather maps he uses to give Eisenhower the best possible weather forecast for the invasion.
Initially he is shocked by how badly prepared his operation room is and that he has to share it with the confident and ultimately compassionate Lieutenant Kay Summersby (Laura Rogers). He doesn’t improve the initial tension between them both by dumping her correspondence from her desk that he has chosen to be his.
The set itself is fairly bare leaving room for the floor to ceiling weather maps the cast and audience follow as the play progresses. The French windows enable us to experience black outs and the unpleasant English weather outside. The wind and rain effect created was especially impressive.
Eisenhower, commands the stage with his towering authority, played expertly by Malcolm Sinclair. The interaction between him and Stagg takes many stances but includes several humorous moments, particularly when the rules of rugby are explained. The initial conflict in the play is between Stagg and the American weatherman Colonel Krick (Philip Cairns) who takes a contrary viewpoint as to what the weather conditions are likely to be. Eisenhower initially sides with his countryman but slowly begins to accept that Stagg has a far better scientific and strong instinct approach to the English Channel’s notoriously changeable weather conditions. As the story unfolds we also learn of further pressures on Stagg’s shoulders, we see his stress levels rise to almost breaking point.
Haig has written an engrossing drama that gives a good sense of the war being fought in real time and the difficult decisions that people had to make with thousands of lives at stake. The casting is spot on and Haig, is ably supported by ten excellent actors. The direction from John Dove keeps the action moving well throughout and the overall experience is enhanced by Colin Richmond’s simple but effective stage design. Lighting from Tim Mitchell recreates the feeling of the period as does the sound from Philip Pinsky. The video work from Andrzej Goulding enables the audience to keep in touch with events as the timeline unfolds.
This wonderful production pays homage to Group Captain James Stagg who was appointed an OBE for his valuable services during the planning of D-Day, an event that changed the course of history. A fabulous play that remains in the mind long after curtain call.
Reviewed by Steve Sparrow
Photography by Robert Day
Park Theatre until 28th April then transfers to the Ambassadors Theatre from 6th June until 1st September
Olivier award-winner David Haig will star in David Hare’s Racing Demons from 21 June to 8 July, directed by Jonathan Church
BAFTA winner Edward Fox will star in Hugh Whitemore’s Sand in the Sandwiches from 11 to 15 July, directed by Gareth Armstrong
UK premiere of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest from 21 July to 12 August, directed by Simon Phillips
Oliver award winner Henry Goodman stars in the world premiere of Alan Franks’ Looking at Lucian from 3 August to 2 September at the Ustinov Studio, directed by Tom Attenborough
Alan Bennett’s classic play The Lady in the Van from 16 August to 2 September, directed by Jonathan Church
PRIORITY BOOKING OPENS
SATURDAY 11 MARCH AT 10AM
with general on-sale on Monday 27 March at 10am
Jonathan Church succeeds Peter Hall as Artistic Director, who established the Theatre Royal Bath Summer Season in 2003 with his company’s annual residencies. Church was previously Artistic Director of Chichester Festival Theatre, overseeing over 100 productions including Taken at Midnight, ENRON, Macbeth with Sir Patrick Stewart, Sweeney Todd and Gypsy. Following his departure from Chichester Festival Theatre, Jonathan Church set up his own independent production company, which he will continue to lead alongside his new position at Theatre Royal Bath. Church said:
‘Having regularly seen the work at Theatre Royal Bath under Peter Hall’s directorship, I’m extremely proud to be the new Director of Bath’s summer seasons and hope to continue Peter’s tradition of bringing great artists to Bath and to balance the familiar with the new. A summer season for me always needs an element of festival and celebration about it and I hope that with this programme of work we are celebrating a number of iconic storytellers – David Hare, Alan Bennett, Hugh Whitemore and Alfred Hitchcock, alongside a group of extraordinary actors.’
RACING DEMONS Wednesday 21 June – Saturday 8 July
Jonathan Church will direct Olivier Award-winner David Haig as Lionel Espy in David Hare’s multi-award winning play Racing Demons, which tackles the role of the clergy and the church’s role in modern Britain. Further casting will be announced in due course.
David Haig has previously performed at Theatre Royal Bath in The Madness of George III and King Lear. Other recent theatre credits include Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Old Vic), Blue/Orange (Young Vic), Guys & Dolls (Savoy Theatre) and Our Country’s Good (Royal Court), for which he won the Olivier Award. Notable film and television credits include Four Weddings and a Funeral, Witness for the Prosecution, The Thick of It and Mo.
David Hare is one of the UK’s foremost playwrights and screenwriters with plays including The Judas Kiss, Skylight, Amy’s View and Plenty. He received Academy Award nominations for his adaptations of The Hours and The Reader.
SAND IN THE SANDWICHES Tuesday 11 July – Saturday 15 July
Following an acclaimed sell-out run at Chichester Festival Theatre, triple BAFTA winner Edward Fox will return to Bath in the celebrated one-man play exploring the life and work of poet John Betjeman. Written by Hugh Whitemore and directed by Gareth Armstrong, Sand in the Sandwiches celebrates a man famous not only for light verse and laughter, but for his passions, his sense of purpose and his unforgettable poetry.
Edward Fox’s distinguished career counts iconic British films including the Oscar winning Ghandi, The Day of the Jackal, A Bridge Too Far, Oh! What a Lovely War, The Dresser, The Go-Between and James Bond’s Never Say Never Again. His stage credits include: The Audience, Four Quartets, Hamlet, An Evening with Anthony Trollope and Letter of Resignation.
Hugh Whitemore, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, is an award-winning writer whose work spans stage and screen. Theatre credits include As You Desire Me, Stevie, Pack of Lies and The Best of Friends. Films credits include Jane Eyre (1996) and 84 Charing Cross Road. With over 70 television credits, Whitemore has written for broadcasters in both the UK and USA, winning two Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Awards and two Emmy Awards.
Gareth Armstrong specialises in solo performance and has helped to create a dozen such theatre pieces, including Hugh Whitemore’s My Darling Clemmie and his own dramatisation of Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, called Wilde Without the Boy.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST Friday 21 July – Saturday 12 August
Following its world premiere in Melbourne, Alfred Hitchcock’s supreme comedy of suspense North by Northwest will receive its UK premiere at Theatre Royal Bath in a new stage adaptation of Hitchcock’s film by Carolyn Burns, directed by Simon Phillips.
Carolyn Burns’ latest work includes the stage adaptation of Australian novel Ladies in Black and Good People which was performed at the International Playwriting Festival in South London.
Simon Phillips is a New Zealand-Australian director and former Artistic Director of Melbourne Theatre Company. Previous theatre credits include Priscilla Queen of the Desert on Broadway and Love Never Dies in Melbourne.
Casting will be announced in due course.
LOOKING AT LUCIAN Thursday 3 August – Saturday 2 September
Theatre Royal Bath’s Ustinov Studio will stage the World Premiere of mesmerising fly-on-the-wall drama Looking at Lucian by Alan Franks, directed by Tom Attenborough. Olivier Award winner Henry Goodman will star as Lucian Freud, widely regarded to be the greatest living portrait painter of our time, as he works in his Kensington Studio, painting a portrait across the course of ten months.
Henry Goodman’s extensive career includes seasons with the RSC and National Theatre. His awards include both the Olivier Award and Critics’ Circle Award for Best Actor for Trevor Nunn’s The Merchant of Venice and the Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical for Assassins. Other acclaimed performances include Hysteria in which he played Lucian Freud’s grandfather, Sigmund Freud, Chicago, Fiddler on the Roof, Broken Glass and Jonathan Church’s production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.
Alan Franks was a feature writer and columnist for The Times for 30 years, interviewing numerous international stars from the world of music, theatre and literature. Franks’ playwriting credits include The Mother Tongue, The Edge of the Land and A World Elsewhere.
Tom Attenborough is the Artistic Director of Rhapsody of Words Productions, Associate Director of the Watermill Theatre and Artistic Associate of HighTide Festival Theatre. Attenborough’s directing credits include Burbage’s Farewell (Minerva Theatre Chichester), Twelfth Night, Bell Book & Candle (US & UK Tour), Untold Stories (Watermill) and The 24 Hour Plays (The Old Vic).
THE LADY IN THE VAN Wednesday 16 August – Saturday 2 September
Jonathan Church will direct the closing production of the 2017 Summer Season, Alan Bennett’s classic play The Lady in the Van. Casting will be announced in due course.
Originally a memoir, a radio series, and recently a film, The Lady in the Van is the touching, uplifting and wonderfully funny story of Miss Mary Shepherd, a homeless woman, who temporarily moved her clapped out Bedford van into Alan Bennett’s front garden at Gloucester Crescent, Camden. She remained parked there for the next 15 years.
Alan Bennett’s extensive credits include Single Spies, Talking Heads, The Madness of King George, The History Boys and Enjoy.
Looking at Lucian By Alan Franks Directed by Tom Attenborough Designed by Carla Goodman Dates: Thursday 3 August – Saturday 2 September Press Night: Thursday 10 August, 7pm Performance schedule: Monday – Saturday, 7.30pm; Matinees Thursday & Saturday, 2.30pm (No matinees 3 or 10 August) Prices: £24.50 / £17.50 concessions (Previews: £15)