12 April 2018
Pressure, a play by David Haig
The Park Theatre
reviewed by Adam McCormack
Star rating: *****
It is June 1944 and, following some 18 months of preparation, the Allied Forces are ready to invade France. All is in place, and the timing regarding tides and a full moon look perfect, but what about the weather? That the fate of 350,000 troops hinge on getting this right is pressure indeed – pressure that is intensified by the US weather expert, Irving P. Krick, disagreeing with the British meteorologist, James Stagg. Krick’s 2-dimensional approach predicts a clear calm day, a scenario that is music to Supreme Commander Eisenhower’s ears, but Stagg sees the weather differently; he factors in wind speeds at altitude and foresees an unprecedented storm. If Stagg is right, timing D-Day for 5th June will be an unprecedented disaster.
Pressure creates a scenario of extreme jeopardy based on intellect and ego. Is the American just saying what he knows Eisenhower wants to hear? Or is Stagg digging his heels in, in the face of mounting evidence, just to protect his reputation? Within all of this there are additional pressures. Stagg’s wife is about to have their second child and has dangerously high blood pressure, yet secrecy forbids Stagg contacting her or her doctor. The story also manages to portray the very close relationship between Eisenhower and his assistant Kay Summersby, a woman who has devoted her life to his service. Writer David Haig has managed to beautifully weave these subplots into the narrative so that the effect, as the deadline for making a final decision on the invasion approaches, is emotionally overwhelming.
Director John Dove’s perfectly paced production compliments Haig’s brilliant script and together they manage to make the receipt of weather reports, with the action set in one room over 4 days, dramatic and utterly compelling. Pressure is further enhanced by performances that give real insight into the characters. David Haig’s Stagg is initially a dour and unsmiling Scot, but as he has to fight his case to delay the invasion, at the same time as his wife goes into labour, his emotional collapse is heartbreaking to watch. Behind every great man there is a great woman and Laura Rogers shows Summersby as a supportive confidant to Eisenhower, but also an essential emotional prop for Stagg at a time of great need. Her portrayal of a devoted woman, destined to by sidelined as the war fades, is full of pathos and tenderness. Playing Eisenhower is a tough ask, but Malcolm Sinclair manages to stop short of pastiche and, helped by Haig’s dialogue, shows a man that empathised with his troops yet did not lose sight of the ultimate goal.
Seeing such a powerful play in the intimate surroundings of the Park Theatre is a rare treat. Pressure deserves to be a huge success. This production runs until 28th April, but a transfer to the West End is already scheduled, with the play opening at the Ambassadors theatre, with perfect timing – on 6th June.