I know Brits are famed for talking about the weather, but a whole play about it seems a bit like overkill. Still, once again confirming my firm belief that it’s possible to write a play about absolutely anything if you do it right, Pressure proves itself to be a superbly dramatic and tension-filled production.
The D-Day landings are so embedded in our collective consciousness that it’s hard to imagine it was touch and go whether they would happen at all – and that the weather would be such an important factor in the timing. It seems obvious if you think about it – of course you can’t land thousands of men on enemy beaches in stormy seas – but I can’t say it ever occurred to me before.
It occurred to General Eisenhower and the British, though, who enlisted esteemed Scottish weatherman James Stagg to predict the weather for the proposed landing date. The title of Pressure can refer to several things – the weather pressure itself, the pressure put on Stagg to succeed, and the high blood pressure threatening the life of his wife, who is awaiting the birth of the couple’s second son.
Pressure is written by David Haig, who also stars in the play as Stagg himself. His performance is superb: grumpy, idiosyncratic, filled with doubt but in the end as confident as he can be in his predictions. I never imagined weather could be so interesting, but hearing him explain the various fronts affecting the English Channel was fascinating. His complex and three-dimensional predictions are in sharp contrast to those of cocky US army forecaster Krick (Philip Cairns), and it’s touch and go who General Eisenhower (Malcolm Sinclair) will listen to. (Watching this I realised I didn’t know on what date the landings actually took place, so this was a genuine mystery to me!)
The action of the play takes place inside one small room, the centre of the forecasts where Stagg gathers all the information to make his important predictions. It gives the sense of the claustrophobia the inhabitants must have felt, unable to leave the building owing to the top secret nature of the plan.
Though the play was a bit too long, and at times verged on the hagiographic (Eisenhower’s English chauffeur (Laura Rogers) telling Stagg that he’s “ten times” the man Krick is seemed like slight overkill), overall it was a dramatic and memorable play that was surprisingly moving.