until 1 September 2018
Pressure | Review
David Haig’s ‘Pressure’ is a funny little thing. Starring David Haig, Pressure originally debuted on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014, before being revived at the Chichester Festival and transferring to where it currently calls home; The Ambassador Theatre. Penned by Haig himself, Pressure relays the story of Group Captain James Stagg, the meteorologist brought in to advise the government on the weather conditions ahead of Operation Overlord – or as we now know it: the battle of Normandy.
Set in just one room, where a large weather map dominates centre stage, our audience watches the arrival of Stagg (Haig), a stubborn, arrogant boffin who demands telephones, barometers and type writers. He is met by General Eisenhower (a marvellous Malcolm Sinclair), and over the following 72 hours does battle with his arrogant American counterpart Krick (Philip Cairns) who predicts that the weather for the landings will be fine and sunny – based on analogues from previous years. Stagg insists that the forecast suggests rain and gale force storms which would be make the landing impossible, and between them all, Eisenhower must make a decision that will affect over 50,000 men. High stakes indeed.
As Stagg, David Haig is playing to form, but that is no bad thing. Haig brings Stagg to life with relish, changing his entire stance, his head slightly bowed, brow always furrowed; a difficult Scot with a soft voice but a strong belief. Despite the fact that a good chunk of the text is dedicated to what is essentially just characters repeating weather forecasts, Haig imbues Stagg with a passion and love of the weather as well as an energy that means that even if the audience don’t entirely understand what they’re hearing, the understand the significance of it. He is also very funny, which helps endear him to an audience; there were many knowing laughs in the audience as Stagg declared “there is nothing predictable about the [British] weather, that’s why we’re always talking about it!”
Malcolm Sinclair as a blustering Eisenhower is a marvel, funny, brash and very American, but it’s the moments of quiet, in the early hours of July 5th where Sinclair really excels. I was particularly moved by the moment where Eisenhower declared with an understated anger that casualties of 10,000 would be considered a success by the government, regardless of the person devastation that those lost lives would have on the people they left behind. A timely reminder that in difficult times, no life is insignificant. So far, so much a boy’s game, but the scales are balanced by Laura Rogers as Kay Summersby, the driver (and secret lover) of Eisenhower who could run rings around them all if only she was given the chance. Repeatedly put down by the men, Rogers has transformed Summerby into the beating heart of the performance, a woman who sees the landings as the beginning of the end, and who bring a calm, level headed sense of sanity to the tense proceedings, acting as a confidante to both Stagg and Eisenhower in the moments of uncertainty.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the lighting (Tim Mitchell) and sound (Philip Pinsky) which transforms in the second half of the play from bright sun to storms and thunder. It would be so easy to make these lighting changes look clunky and amateur, but the careful precision of the changing winds really helps to ground the situation and keep the tension bubbling along to the end. John Dove has found wonderful performances in all his actors, in even the smallest of moments and keeps the wheels turning so there are no wasted moments. I could have done with cutting some of the subplot involving Stagg’s unseen wife, but I also understand the need for characters to have a backstory and a personal motive.
Special shout out to a scene stealing David Killick as an eccentric elderly electrician who longs for the Normandy landings, if only so he can go home, and who doesn’t stop for breath once in the few minutes he’s on stage. It was such a tiny moment, but certainly one of the funniest.
Funny, tense, and laced with melancholy – and surprisingly timely.
Reviewer: Alice Foster
Pressure is currently playing at The Ambassador Theatre until 1st September. To find out more or to book tickets visit: Theatre South East Tickets
Cast: David Haig, Malcolm Sinclair, Laura Rogers, Philip Cairns, Andrew MacBean, Bert Seymour, David Killick, Mark Jax, Mark Kitton, Molly Roberts, Robert Heard and William Mannering
Director: John Dove