David Haig’s new play creates a storm at the Lyceum!
It is 02 June 1944 in Allied HQ, Portsmouth, England. Thousands of troops are on alert in ports around the British Isles awaiting the signal from U.S. commander General Dwight D. ‘Ike’ Eisenhower (Malcolm Sinclair) that they set off across the Channel to help bring the war to an end. The colossally daring decoy named Operation Overlord that we now know as the D-Day Landings was in the offing. Dr James Stagg (David Haig), a Scottish meteorologist now uniformed and with the rank of Group Captain, has been called in to create an allied decision to predict weather conditions with his U.S. counterpart Colonel Irving P. Krick (Tim Beckmann).
The two men’s modus operandi are diametrically opposed and tensions run high as time ticks away towards the chosen date of a full moon that would help alleviate the sailings. Krick firmly believes the fine weather England has been enjoying will continue but Stagg’s precise and more thoroughly scientific view involving “3 D thinking” indicates the opposite. His serious determination wins out. Eisenhower favours Stagg’s assessment over Krick’s and shifts the date the now historic one of 06 June.
Colin Richmond’s set dedicatedly recreates a world of carbon paper, wooden ladders, big charts, notice boards and outside lines. 1940s big band sounds, planes’ engine noises and filmic strings created by Philip Pinsky further augment the scene. Graphics showing dates and time in old typewriter font from Andrzej Goulding give an added layer of authenticity to this utterly believable scene. Under John Dove’s superb direction, this terrific cast takes us back these 70 years with utter believability. Though playing small parts as respectively a Young Naval Rating and Flight Lieutenant Andrew Carter, Scott Gilmour and Robert Jack were outstanding in every scene.
David Haig’s writing of this little known true story of a modest Scottish man of humble origins weaves the personal with the political, bringing humanity to those making decisions with universal consequences. Haig has thoroughly embraced the apparently thrawn character of Stagg, using a flawless Scots accent throughout. In fact Stagg is precise and exacting rather than just cussedly awkward. His blunt directness is misinterpreted at first but it is soon clear that his serious enthusiasm in finding a suitable weather window matters more than surface manners. His portrayal at Stagg’s anxiety over the birth of his second child while world affairs are being conducted is both raw and poignant.
There is a fine metaphor for the differences between these particular allies in the form of whisky and doughnuts towards the end of the play. Stagg’s working relationship with Lieutenant Kay Summersby, played with cool efficiency by Laura Rogers, unfolds movingly over the piece as she creates her own catalyst to events with a particularly feminine angle. Each of them is a forgotten hero dismissed by ‘Ike’, played absolute command by Malcolm Sinclair with a polite if curt “Very grateful.”
Pressure is a thoroughly absorbing, well researched and engaging piece of theatre full of finger tingling tension that manages to be funny while shedding important light on a vital part of our history. Don’t miss it – no pressure!
1-24 May, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.45pm; Wed/Sat, 2.30pm
£14 - £27.50 (mats £12 - £22)
Pressure is a co-production with Chichester Festival Theatre where the show will run from 30 May to 28th June 2014.