Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Pressure

David Haig
Jonathan Church Productions, Jenny King & Oliver Mackwood Ltd
Ambassadors Theatre

Pressure Credit: Robert Day
Philip Cairns, Laura Rogers, David Haig Credit: Robert Day
Malcolm Sinclair as General Eisenhower and Laura Rogers as Kay Summersby Credit: Robert Day
William Mannering as Lieut. Battersby, Malcolm Sinclair as General Eisenhower, Laura Rogers as Kay Battersby and David Haig as Group Capt. James Stagg Credit: Robert Day

It is 2 June 1944 and southern England is bathed in sunshine. All looks fine for Operation Overlord planned for three days' time, 5 June, the night when the moon and the tides will be most advantageous for the Allies to land on the Normandy beaches.

There are seven different storms on paths that could bring them to Britain but US meteorologist Colonel Krick assures the Allied High Command that high pressure pushing up from the Azores will ensure the good weather continues. Group Captain Stagg, his British opposite number, disagrees. High above local weather patterns, the speed of the Jet Stream will affect what happens blow them and accelerate the advancing storm systems. He predicts gales, high waves and low cloud with poor visibility: conditions which could capsize landing craft, hide targets from bombers and cause the loss of thousands of lives which could make the invasion a disaster.

Pressure is about the weather on D-Day. That may not sound like great theatre but David Haig’s play in John Dove’s gripping production is an evening of stimulating drama—and that despite everyone already knowing the outcome to which it is leading. The battle between the ideas of the two meteorologists and the momentous decision about risking lives and affecting the war’s progress that must be made by General Dwight Eisenhower becomes the core of the drama which is played out by a fine cast with an immediacy that keeps the audience on tenterhooks.

Dramatist Haig plays Stagg, a blunt, plain-spoken Scot, fully aware of the implications if his advice is followed with that tension exacerbated by the fact that his wife, who had a difficult first pregnancy when both she and their child nearly died, is about to go into labour with their second while he cannot leave his duties here to support her. It is a splendid performance of a dour, dedicated scientist who may lack charm but is full of integrity.

Malcolm Sinclair is Eisenhower, heavy with responsibility but humane, worried at intelligence that Rommel has reinforced defences in Normandy—have the Germans breached Allied security? Irving Krick’s predictions had been right in North Africa; should he instead believe this Brit telling him just what he doesn’t want to hear?

Colonel Krick (who predicted the best night to burn Atlanta for the filming of Gone With the Wind) doesn’t even believe in the Jet Stream’s existence, bases his predictions on historic precedent and has no apparent experience of weather as fickle as that we have in Britain. Philip Cairns plays him like a man so sure of himself that he will ever afterwards claim Ike followed his advice (as he did).

Ike’s British chauffeur Kay Summersby, who describes herself as general dogsbody but clearly has Eisenhower’s trust, seems to be on the side of Stagg but gives emotional support all round with tireless energy. Laura Rogers endows her with great personality and shows how deeply attached she is to the General. Were they lovers? Craig avoids being explicit, though Ike locks a door to ensure they have a few quiet moments together. They have already been together for three years but she guiltily wants the war to go on forever so that that can continue.

Those playing Admirals, Air Chief Marshals and lesser ranks match the high standards set by the principals with David Killick very funny doubling as an electrician, who, to safeguard secrecy, is not allowed to leave after doing work there. This cameo is one of many moments of comedy that lighten the action without holding up the dramatic momentum. There is a point when the play seems to be over, but what follows is a necessary coda.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton