Us inhabitants of the British Isles can spend an inordinate amount of our time discussing the weather, yet it doesn’t automatically follow that our “four seasons in a day”climate is also a great subject for drama. It’s to writer and lead actor David Haig’s credit that his new play Pressure proves such an instantly gripping and exciting work, despite a necessarily strong reliance on some pretty arcane meteorological terminology.
It’s to writer and lead actor David Haig’s credit that his new play Pressure proves such an instantly gripping and exciting work
Haig is helped, of course, by the situation he’s writing about: the impending launch of Operation Overlord, the long-planned Allied invasion of north west Europe that would ultimately decide the outcome of the Second World War. His chief protagonist is Scottish meteorologist Group Captain James Stagg, the man representing Britain in the small team brought together to advise General Eisenhower on when to launch “D-Day”. But there’s a problem: US meteorologist Irving P Krick fundamentally disagrees with Stagg’s assertion that foul weather on Monday 5 June 1944 will make D-Day impossible. Even Stagg accepts that Krick’s arguments are convincingly based on numerous precedents; it’s just his 25 years experience of British weather—“a climate of surprises”—and his conviction that the influence of higher-altitude wind speeds must be factored in, that force him to a different conclusion.
As both writer and performer, Haig speedily and succinctly introduces us to Stagg and the challenges he faces as “a scientist, not a gambler”forced to provide certainties for military generals when he believes he can only offer educated guesses. Abrupt in manner, and not one to waste words unnecessarily, Stagg is the personification of a pressure-cooker, well aware of the vital necessity of his work and yet also conflicted by fears for his wife and soon-to-be-born son.
However, Haig’s greatest achievement as the writer of Pressure is in how he successfully utilises the unavoidable depression that follows all the high pressure surrounding the storms; for, once Operation Overlord swings into action, Stagg and even General Eisenhower (a gritty Malcolm Sinclair) are left on the sidelines as events unfold beyond their control on the other side of the Channel. Haig takes this opportunity to give space to his characters, now facing up to the realisation that everything is likely to change from then on, and how not everyone will be invited to see things through to the end.
Staged in a single room—soon dominated by the regular huge weather maps which arrive, full of dramatic import, at regular intervals—Haig is well supported by director John Dove’s choice of cast; in particular, Laura Rogers as Kay Summersby, mechanic-come-personal assistant to Eisenhower, who manages to form a genuine friendship with Stagg. Thanks to Haig’s sharp writing and the cast’s conviction, it’s genuinely possible to forget any personal knowledge of how D-Day actually panned out; the result is some genuine edge of the seat drama with real heart and soul.