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Park Theatre, London

Pressure
4.0Reviewer's Rating

If you are a bit of a history buff “Pressure” is the perfect theatre night out. Swift-paced and original, it goes beyond the usual Churchill-centred or action-packed WW2 dramas. Based on real historical events, it’s a classic British stiff-upper-lip and sensibility against the impetuous Americans with that favourite of conversation pieces, the weather added to the mix.

The action is all set in Southwick House in Portsmouth, the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force. It is 2nd June 1944, in just 65 hours’ time, British and American forces are due to begin the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy. The weather conditions are monitored closely, so far conditions appear to be ideal for the deployment of the troops. Group Captain James Stagg, a gruff and direct Scot, who is the Allies’ chief meteorological officer, disagrees. A well-respected scientist with long experience monitoring the ever-changing British weather is adamant a big storm is brewing and the landings will have to be postponed. Colonel Irving Krick, his American counterpart, thinks it will continue in this vein. He’s the meteorologist who predicted the fine weather for the filming of Gone with the Wind and has been General Eisenhower’s weatherman throughout the war.

As the pressure mounts debates are waged with isobars, the jet stream, and frenetic meteorological updates. Stagg is more and more tense entrenched in his prediction but doubtful of his own certainty. His wife’s precarious pregnancy only adds to the pressure. Ultimately, the decision is to be taken by General Eisenhower who feels the weight of his choice as much as Stagg does that of his.

Haig has obviously done his research, and then smartly played with the facts for full dramatic effect and despite the fact that we roughly know what will happy we are happy to suspend our disbelief and follow the…jet stream. The tension is palpable and expertly maintained throughout, given the considerable jargon in the increasingly impassioned arguments. Haig himself plays Dr James Stagg with catching tension and touching integrity, and his turbulent rapport with Malcolm Sinclair’s brusque and thoughtful Eisenhower is the highlight of the play. The pair offers us touching setpieces on the value of an individual life over the many, the cost of war, the difficulties of making judgements and standing by them, and genuinely funny gags on the British weather and rugby.

Laura Rogers is also very good as Ike’s personal aide, always practical and level-headed, but her role as the sole female, consoling, motherly figure in an all-male cast feels dated and contrived rather than essential to the plot. The same goes for the sub-plot of Stagg’s pregnant wife.

John Dove’s production is direct and lively, catching the bustle of a room where men are constantly interrupted with the latest developments. Colin Richmond’s set is dominated by a series of huge weather maps of the Atlantic and Europe.

Though a little long, “Pressure” is good, old-fashioned storytelling with vivid performances. There are real wit and warmth without any warmongering. An engaging historical drama.

  • Drama
  • By David Haig
  • Directed by John Dove
  • Cast includes: David Haig, Malcolm Sinclair and Laura Rogers
  • Park Theatre, London
  • Until 28 April 2018 and at the Ambassadors Theatre from 6th June - to coincide with the 74th anniversary of D-Day - to 1st September

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