Pressure at The Kings Theatre (Tue 13 to Sat 17 Feb) is one of those productions that comes along all too rarely these days with a very human insight into the pivotal role of one very ordinary person in one of the 20th century’s most enormous events – the final days of organisation leading up to the Allied D Day landings in Europe – a date now forever written down in history as Tuesday 6th June 1944, but a date that so nearly was not so.
The window of opportunity to launch D Day “Operation Overlord” was almost like something out of a Greek Odyssey depending on almost mythical alignment of factors such as the perfect moon, tide movements and a favourable window in the complex weather systems around Britain and Europe to allow troop movements by sea and land to have air cover support for them. One of the pivotal figures in this story was Scottish meteorologist, born in Dalkeith, Group Captain James Stagg who was at complete odds with American Irving P. Krick over the weather predictions leading up to D Day. James Stagg predicted very stormy weather based on his theories of many as yet unproven factors (such as The Jet Stream at high altitude) affecting weather and prediction models. Whilst Colonel Irving P. Krick was thinking in two dimensional weather systems, James Stagg was thinking in three dimensional ones.
Written by David Haig who also stars as James Stagg, this is a wonderful story and an equally wonderful portrayal of a very everyday man who finds himself having to be part of a monumentally important chain of information upon which the lives of hundreds of thousands of servicemen will depend. David Haig is perfect in his portrayal of the ordinary man here, and it is a huge tribute to both his acting and writing abilities that something that is essentially a long weather forecast can become a story that just absorbs you as a viewer from start to finish.
All great stories are simple ones relying on basic dynamic interaction between the characters and Philip Cairns as Colonel Irvin P Krick is a perfect counterbalance to David Haig’s Stagg here. So much of this story though is not of the great figures in WW2 history such as General Eisenhower – played so well here by Malcolm Sinclair - but everyday people, and central to everything here and the one person that holds everyone together is Kay Summersby – driver and personal secretary to General Eisenhower, and Laura Rogers is superb in this role bringing real emotions to her role as her devotion to Eisenhower and her unlikely friendship with Stagg develops. Kay Summersby herself is a hugely interesting character and her story of how a woman serving in the British Mechanised Transport Corps came to be part of General Eisenhower’s most trusted inner staff is a whole story in itself.
The set for “Pressure” is again like all the best stage productions a simple one set in a single room. Necessity demands that the central weather charts be visible to all of the audience and therefore take the back wall, but I hope that most of the audience on the right hand side of the theatre (I was on the left) could see in at least part of the balcony of the room with its projected weather fronts through the windows as they were as much part of the story as the script.
With tight direction (John Dove) and script (David Haig) and solid performances by all the cast, “Pressure” is exactly what a night of drama at the theatre should be, a story that is skilfully told by the cast that pulls you into their world and wanting to hear every word until you know how the story ends.
Review by Tom King