Reviewed – 3rd April 2018
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