Friday, 23 March 2018

REVIEW: Pressure at Richmond Theatre

David Haig has written and stars in this fascinating play about a little known critical role in the D-Day landing planning played by Group Captain James Stagg, a committed straight talking Scottish meteorologist who is called upon to lead an international team to predict the weather conditions in the channel for the landings. Set in the room he occupies constantly in the run up to the events in Southwick House on Portsdown Hill in Hampshire over the period from 2nd June to 6th June 1944, the play explains his predictions and the response from Allied Command.

It requires the audience to understand the different terminology and techniques in predicting the weather and the writing manages to make this interesting. On the one hand the American Krick uses historical charts over the last twenty one years, whereas Stagg uses his intimate experience of British weather patterns and a 3D view of conditions including the high level gulf streams. He says he is a scientist not a gambler and says amusingly " there is nothing predicable about British weather" and that a long range forecast is twenty four hours plus! It is a critical decision for General Eisenhower because he has to safely land 160,000 men and equipment on the Normandy beaches. As one character says there is so many tanks and equipment in Britain that "only the barrage balloons stop the country sinking"!

The play revolves around three characters. Stagg, played wonderfully by David Haig himself, a man who despite his brilliance is racked by doubts caused by the pressure of his work and home life situation. Eisenhower, a very convincingly performance by Malcolm Sinclair, a clear leader but also feeling the pressure of his decision and its impact on the lives of the soldiers, especially the paratroopers to land behind the enemy lines. The third character is the General's driver / secretary, Kay Summersby, a charming performance from Laura Rogers, although she is perhaps too similar to the character Sam in the TV series Foyle's War. There are touching scenes between the three of them enjoying an orange or glass of whisky and a rather over extended comparison between American football and rugby union. 

They are well supported by the rest of the cast with an amusing cameo by Michael Mckenzie as a local electrician seconded to the unit and not allowed to leave, a devise used to explain some of the background to the five DDay beaches, and from Philip Cairns as the unbending American meteorologist, Colonel Krick. 

The sense of the moment and the pressure on the occupants of the room is
enhanced by the view from the balcony of the weather condition through the window, the sound of the planes outside and the blackout curtains over the windows. The large frame up stage is used to mount the weather maps at key moments and project the date and time which despite the fact that we know the outcome before the start does enable Director John Dove to create tension and drama in the lead up to the go/no go decision.

With the recent success of the movies Dunkirk and The Darkest hour and the excellent new play Shadow Factory at the Nuffield Southampton, Pressure is another World War II story that celebrates some of the key personal human stories behind Britain's war. It makes for an enjoyable and intriguing evenings entertainment and another success for David Haig.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls Row K | Price : £31
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