reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 5 February
D-Day – 6 June 1944 – is one of those dates branded into the national consciousness. David Haig’s play Pressure takes a lesser-known aspect of the event, but arguably the most crucial. it concerns the accurate forecasting of the weather between 4 and 6 June.
As in all good conflict dramas, there are balanced opposing sides. General Eisenhower, as Allied Supreme Commander, had the responsibility for timing the Normandy invasion force with maximum effect and minimal life loss.
He relied on the forecasting skills of Colonel Irving P Krick, who had also worked for Hollywood, most notably with the timing of some of the most spectacular scenes in Gone With the Wind. The British specialist was Dr James Stagg. a dour Scots meteorologist with Group Captain status.
Krick, with his Clark Gable moustache, comes over as plausible, if pig-headed in Philip Cairns portrait of the man. One of the strengths of John Dove’s production is the way that Haig’s characterisation of Stagg never plays directly for our liking, let alone understanding, until the man’s innate integrity draws us into sympathy. Almost in spite of ourselves.
The fourth important character is the Irish driver and assistant Kay Summersby. Laura Rogers shows us a woman at war on more than one front. Her relationship with Eisenhower is something of a pipedream; she has been trailed in the wake of greatness, but that – as Rogers suggests – is a path with no defined ending.
All the drama – political, military, professional and personal – comes to a head in the second act when strain and both physical and mental fatigue allow the human sides of the three main characters to emerge. It’s superbly paced, notably by Malcolm Sinclair’s portrait of Eisenhower but also as Stagg clings on to his one certainty.
That’s his belief that there will be a ferocious storm in the Channel on the original D-Day date. As his wife goes into labour, we watch the cost of duty threaten to swamp his human need to be with his wife (her previous labour had also been difficult).
The past, in LP Hartley’s phrase, may be a foreign country where they do things differently. The skill of Haig’s play and Dove staging of it as that we, the audience, can step into that vanished world and for a time feel ourselves truly part of it.
Five star rating.
Pressure runs at the Cambridge Arts theatre until 10 February at the start of a national tour which continues to 24 March.