With clever timing, David Haig’s Pressure comes to Chichester’s smaller Minerva Theatre (the larger one is awaiting its opening after an extensive refurb) to explore the issue that lay at the heart of the D-Day landings. What exactly was the weather going to do? When to go?
No doubt there are endless tales still to be uncovered about that fateful day but the conflict between weathermen would not be one that would immediately spring to mind. Yet weather, as we all now know, was pivotal to the timing of the invasion. The pressure was really on in all senses.
Haig, who has already given us My Boy Jack, a moving account of the effect of grief on Rudyard Kipling after the loss of his son in WW1, now turns his attention to the Second World War but this time with rather less success. The problem is how to make a drama out of a weather forecast for which you already know the outcome!
Hard as he tries – and there are plenty of human relationship and barometric squalls to overcome before the decision, by General Eisenhower, to go is reached – Pressure remains an exercise, laudable as it is, in predictability.
Haig’s focuses the main action on the conflict between hard-headed Scottish forecaster, Group Captain James Stagg (played by Haig) and his opposite American number, Crick whose modus vivendi is to refer only to past precedents whereas Stagg uses the more accurate tools of lifelong acquaintance with British weather and information coming in to him hourly from ships, weather balloons and the rest on which to base his predictions.
In the end, dogged Stagg wins out, Eisenhower choosing to go with his reports despite deep reservations about the effect more delay will have on morale.
Stagg’s prediction that the unusually fine weather is going to give way to Channel storms on June 5th is played out in realistic lightning and thunder.
Eisenhower emerges in Malcolm Sinclair’s portrayal as a spikey but sympathetic kind of veteran Henry V, worrying on the eve of battle about his men and their impending deaths. And death and loss is the thing that finally bonds the gruff Stagg with Eisenhower: in the former case, a brother, in the latter a son.
John Dove’s production faithfully reproduces the make do and mend nature of the wartime central control room at Southwick House, outside Portsmouth, just down the road from the Chichester Theatre. It’s all very local and perfectly pitched in its poignancy to the audience nestling in this pretty West Sussex harbour town.
Alongside Haig doing his typically fine turn as a harried father-to-be in the midst of all the wartime pressures being placed upon him, there is sterling work from Laura Rogers as Ike’s right-hand woman – the only female in this band of brothers, ministering sharp maternal bounty and endless cups of tea and coffee. She also happens to be in love with Eisenhower.
But with the landings successfully launched, Eisenhower is already turning his attentions elsewhere. Perhaps most intriguingly, Haig leaves us with the sense of painful anticlimax and intimations of the even more difficult psychological situation when pressures are taken off. What happens then? What does the new future hold? Now there’s an interesting point of departure…