Lyceum Theatre and Chichester Festival Theatre
Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
From 01 May 2014 to 24 May 2014
Review by Seth Ewin
In Britain, most people are very good at waffling on about the weather and weather forecasts. David Haig, though, has turned it into a piece of art; a tense, tight and quite brilliant drama. Though it probably helped that he chose to centre the play around, arguably, the most important weather forecast in Britain's history.
It is early June 1944 and General Dwight D Eisenhower (Malcolm Sinclair) enlists the help of Dalkeith-born James Stagg (David Haig), a meteorologist with a strong track record and innovative ideas. The story centres around the short but intense period these two very different men spent together.
In the spirit of Allied unity, Stagg is paired with Irving P Krick (Tim Beckmann), who also has a great forecasting background but not Stagg's knowledge of British weather. Krick plays a relatively minor role, though thankfully he comes across as an optimistic rather than an arrogant Yank.
A more key role than Krick is Kay Summersby (Laura Rogers), Eisenhower's chauffeur. This is not a female role inserted to slightly alter the gender imbalance. The real Summersby spent much of the war by Eisenhower's side. The play keeps their relationship an ambiguous one, which makes sense as in reality there are very differing first-hand accounts, so the jury is still out.
The other main performer is the weather, with wind and rain forcing its way into the lovingly made period office through the blacked-out french windows. Actors get properly drenched and the oppressive build-up to the storm is also well conveyed, although not a difficult task in a warm theatre.
The central trio of Eisenhower, Stagg and Summersby work very well together: Ike provides the dry humour of an outsider bemused by British customs, Stagg is a scientist unused to this sort of pressure and Summersby does her best to keep relations between them from grinding to a halt.
There is also great support from the rest of the cast, although often very small roles still add to the drama. Admiral Bertram "Bertie" Ramsay (Michael Mackenzie), Air Chief Marshall Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory (Alister Cameron) and General "Tooey" Spaatz (Gilly Gilchrist) add plenty of gravitas to the war council.
While the outcome of D-day won't come as a surprise, unless you are really rubbish at history, the play does have nice surprises in the development of the characters. Part of the charm of the play is undoubtedly from the three leads who the audience warms to as the play goes on. There are some great moments of humour, particularly from Ike.
A great piece of new writing that will blow you away. The events of 1944 may have been dramatised many different ways before, but personally I think this piece is more moving than a dozen Saving Private Ryans.