Pressure, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, CFT, June 2014

Pressure indeed! The biggest amphibious landing in history was scheduled for 5th June 1944, but it would be madness to go ahead if the weather were against it. Waves of 6 to 10 feet were difficult, but possible, to deal with. Anything more was impossible, the landing craft would overturn, and the air force would be powerless to make a meaningful contribution if the cloud cover were 100%.

Dr. James Stagg with the charts, all images CFT/ Drew Farrell

Dr. James Stagg with the charts, all images CFT/ Drew Farrell

So they needed to forecast the weather, and the hero of David Haig’s new play is the robustly brilliant Scottish meteorologist Dr. James Stagg, played by Haig himself. His colleague on the American side, Irving P. Krick (Tim Beckman) was a clever salesman who founded the meteorology department at Caltech, but should Eisenhower listen to his sunny advice, successfully followed on several previous occasions? Eisenhower (Malcolm Sinclair) is unsure, though his assistant Kay Summersby (Laura Rogers) becomes quite certain. She trusts the dour Scotsman, and though their working relationship gets off to a bad start the final scene of the play brings them to a state of mutual respect, if also disappointment at the way Eisenhower releases them from further excitement.

The title of the play is very apt, with three sorts of pressure: the barometric type, the D-Day preparations, and the difficult late stages of Stagg’s wife’s pregnancy. At one point the buttoned-down Stagg almost cracks up, and it’s a moving scene as Miss Summersby tries to get through to him and find a way out. As the lynch pin of this drama, Laura Rogers plays her with huge conviction, and as Act I ends, Andrew (Robert Jack), one of Stagg’s assistants speaks earnestly, “Miss Summersby, in my opinion, if General Eisenhower places his trust in Colonel Krick, he’ll be making a terrible mistake”. Will he? The weather remains clement, and it looks as if Stagg may indeed have been too pessimistic. Yet Malcolm Sinclair’s superb portrayal shows Eisenhower’s concern about the lives of his men, so he has a tough decision.

Stagg reports, Eisenhower centre

Eisenhower presides, Stagg reports

In John Dove’s fine production we hear the aeroplanes, we hear the storm, and we see the participants drenched as they step outside for a few seconds. The pressure builds, the tension builds, and the occasional light moments take us to the heart of an incredible few days at the start of June 1944.

The hugely talented David Haig has given us a gripping portrayal of Dr. Stagg, and as a tribute to the present D-Day celebrations this corker of a play makes an inspiring start to the Chichester summer season. It should go to London’s West End.

Performances of Pressure continue until June 28 — for details click here.

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