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A CurtainUp London Review

"It's a science governed by instinct and experience as much as formulae." — Dr James Stagg
Laura Rogers as Lt Summersby, Malcolm Sinclair as Eisenhower and David Haig as Stagg (Photo: Robert Day)
It's not often that I see a well constructed play by a new author which tackles a subject I've never seen before on stage, which is so well rounded and so satisfying. Pressure is written by English actor David Haig, not yet a knight of the theatre, but a well known actor and theatre stalwart who has starred in heavyweight plays like Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III.

I remember Haig starring with Mark Lockyer, another largely unacknowledged genius actor, in Matthew Francis's exciting Christmas productions for Greenwich Theatre of the swashbuckling genre, The Prisoner of Zenda and its sequel Rupert of Hentzau.

Pressure was first seen in Edinburgh and Chichester in 2014 and has taken a mighty long time to arrive in London but is really worth waiting for. Just as it opens at The Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, it is announced that the play will remain in the West End transferring to the Ambassadors Theatre from 6th June until the beginning of September this year.

The play is about the weather forecasting used to determine when Operation Overlord, the Normandy Landings, should take place, bringing to a close the Second World War as the Allied Forces landed first in German Occupied France and then fought through France to Germany. General Dwight D. Eisenhower (Malcolm Sinclair with huge stage presence) is the C in C of the military operation with support from the Navy and the Air Force. David Haig, the playwright, takes the part of Group Captain James Stagg, a Scottish civilian meteorologist drafted into the Royal Air Force for his weather skills.

The weather forecasting was crucial to the success of the operation because of the sea conditions necessary to land so many men and equipment and the importance of the Air Force being able to provide supporting air cover. As anyone who has lived in England knows, the reason the British talk about the weather so much is because it is so changeable. The English weather has been described as four seasons in one day.

Leading up to the Normandy Landings, an American weather expert, Colonel Irving P Krick (Philip Cairns) is predicting calm seas and little or no cloud for 5th June 1944. Krick has been a very successful military meteorologist. Group Captain Stagg, called Dr Stagg, is more reticent. He resists Eisenhower's demands for an early forecast insisting that the Jet Stream, the high altitude winds could impact on the weather depressions building in the Atlantic.

All this is brilliantly illustrated with real weather charts, printed on canvas and filling the rear of the stage showing the formation of the isobars, updated 12 hourly and explained with great skill, helped by some of the participants not being au fait with weather jargon. These charts are lifted from their barracuda banner type cylinders and, for me, added to the authenticity of the debate much better than say, video projections.

Acting as a go between between Eisenhower and his experts is personal assistant Kay Summersby (Laura Rogers). She spends a lot of time with Dr Stagg trying to understand his position and brokers Stagg's credibility with Eisenhower. The implication is that Lieutenant Summersby is providing Ike with some of his home comforts and might be listened to as a trusted colleague. When Stagg is deeply conflicted because his wife, having had a very difficult labour with their first child, is again pregnant, close to term and has been hospitalized for high blood pressure, Summersby will intervene to help Stagg focus on the weather.

These three characters Summersby, Stagg and Eisenhower will create the dramatic tension of Pressure and indeed it is thrilling. Malcolm Sinclair's Eisenhower is shown as a natural leader, decisive and impatient and swears a lot, but we also understand his sense of responsibility to those servicemen putting their life on the line. "Have you seen the fucking weather?" he says. Eisenhower's description of his eve of D Day visit to the USAF personnel in Newbury Berkshire underlines his drivers. David Haig's Stagg equivocates, worries terribly about the lack of certainty, refusing to be forced into a premature decision and Laura Rogers' Summersby is really likable, smoothes everyone's ruffles and facilitates superbly. Haig's natural reverberation gives his voice a sonorous quality.

Although most of my generation know the significance of 6th June 1944, few of us knew the part predicting the weather played so this is new information. The landings had to be made a few days either side of the full moon and delays would have risked intelligence leaking out, increased the length of the war and consequent suffering.

David Haig's play is really well made, reflecting his dramatic experience and there is much to smile at in this theatre of war. Highest recommendation.

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Written by David Haig
Directed by John Dove
Starring: David Haig, Laura Rogers, Malcolm Sinclair
With: Philip Cairns, Robert Heard, Mark Jax, Michael Mackenzie, William Mannering, Bert Seymour, Chris Porter
Design: Colin Richmond
Sound Design: Philip Pinksey
Lighting Design: Tim Mitchell
Video Design: Andrzej Goulding
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7870 6876
Booking to 28th April 2018 at The Park Theatre and then
At The Ambassadors 6th June to 1st September 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 3rd April 2018 performance at the Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JP (Rail/Tube : Finsbury Park)
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