Fringe Box



Review: Pressure – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Storms ahead: Stagg delivers unwelcome news.

By Alice Fowler

With the weather on all our lips, the Yvonne Arnaud transports us to a time when the forecast was, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

David Haig’s impressive Pressure takes place in early June 1944, in the tense days leading up to D-Day. Two meteorologists – one Scottish, one American – are tasked with forecasting the weather for the vital day.

brave whatever winter throws at us and go and see it…

Group Captain James Stagg, expert in the vagaries of British weather, predicts – though with no certainty – storms that will make the landings impossible. Unless they are postponed, he claims, thousands of men will die. His American counterpart Colonel Krick, meanwhile, forecasts blue skies and calm seas. Which man will General Eisenhower believe?

From this little-known piece of history, playwright David Haig – who stars as Stagg – and director John Dove create a gripping, fast-paced play which convinces in every way. Stagg is a man under unbearable pressure: knowing that his forecast, if wrong, may change the outcome of the war; while awaiting news of his heavily pregnant wife, whose blood pressure is dangerously high.

Meanwhile pressure of another kind – meteorological – is rising and falling as Stagg and Krick argue over looming storms in the Atlantic.

Pressure building? Stagg and his assistants update their charts

Designer Colin Richmond’s set is dominated by a huge weather chart, endlessly updated as the hours to D-Day tick past. While the barometric pressure hurtles down, more human dramas are occurring too.

General Eisenhower – winningly played by Malcolm Sinclair – has an English assistant, Lieutenant Kay Summersby (Laura Rogers). Rogers gives a wonderful performance of an able woman in a man’s world, whose closeness to Eisenhower is subtly and tenderly portrayed.

Without Summersby, with her endless cups of coffee and astute psychological support, the pressure on everyone would surely be overwhelming. Yet her role in history, one knows, will go unsung.

While David Haig (familiar from stage, screen and film, including Two Weddings and a Funeral) claims not to have written the play with himself in mind, the role of Stagg seems one he was born to play.

Irascible at the start, Stagg emerges as a man of integrity. Colonel Krick, by contrast, (Philip Cairns), the first ‘celebrity’ forecaster, is adept at telling his bosses what they want to hear. Two cultures are at loggerheads, as well as two men.

This is an era when meteorological readings arrive by telephone, or are hurried in by men in uniform. Who would have thought that the familiar phrases of the shipping forecast could attain such heights of drama?

Stagg (David Haig) and Summersby (Laura Rogers) drink to D-Day

Yet drama it has aplenty, and as the brewing storms merge and falter, we wait with the weathermen, longing for the window of calm that will allow the Normandy landings to successfully occur.

This is a first-rate production, presented by the Touring Consortium Theatre Company and Cambridge Arts Theatre. My advice: brave whatever winter throws at us and go and see it.

Pressure continues at the Yvonne Arnaud theatre until Saturday, March 3. Box office: 01483 440000

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