Written by David Haig
Directed by Hannah Bradley Croall
72 hours to change the course of history.
And a name which means nothing to many, but everything to all of us in respects, is Dalkeith-born meteorologist Dr James Stagg is tasked with an impossible burden of weight. The Allied invasion of France is a mere three days away, but the constraints of his weather forecast data aren’t enough for him to comfortably confirm the conditions on the day.
Had D-Day been attempted in the proposed day’s conditions, without Stagg’s intervention, there is no safe bet as to the outcome. Though it’s likely to have gone favourably in the other direction.
Opening in 2014 at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, celebrated performer and playwright David Haig’s Pressure occupies the one thing we in the United Kingdom cannot resist talking about; the weather. But who can blame us with four seasons in a day – unlike anywhere else in the world for its variables and shifting mood. An intense drama, which offers a platform for some of the unannounced figures who had a significant impact on the outcome of WWII, Pressure finds itself revived once more – with plenty of energy, intelligence, and vigour.
Stagg is a quiet man, captured well by Steven Bradley Croall, who initially struggles with the limited size of their map room that lacks the necessities required to measure and record the pressure changes across the channel. There’s always a sense of the cogs turning, of the factors being weighed and carried before Croall makes a move – fitting for Stagg’s detailed if direct approach. Their vocal inflexion does take a moment to get used to, stripped back of the expectant emotional pitches of lead roles – but is entirely fitting for Stagg’s less ‘social’ focus. Gradually, the production allows for more intimacy which Steven Bradley Croall relishes the opportunity, especially in one of Stagg’s rare outbursts of aggression and concern for his heavily pregnant wife.
Stagg has no time for the ‘lucky’ gesticulations of his colleague, a brash and over-confident Colonel Krick, portrayed by Al Innes. Whilst Krick has no patience for Stagg’s nihilistic concerns and (slowly) developing theories. The pair make for sparks to surge between them – culminating in a decisive and aggressive outburst from Innes which raises that ever-present question of many in the U.S. had about what the Americans are doing in this mess, to begin with. It’s all directed tightly by Hannah Bradley Croall, who utilises the limited space to close in on the claustrophobic nature of it all – as hundreds of soldiers, workers and statisticians huddle together in the darkness of a looming foe.
Often sandwiched between the pair is a shrewd and authoritative Gregor McElvogue as General Eisenhower, unendurably placed between a straight-talking Scot with reservations and a trusted countryman whom he has worked with many times before to great success. But there’s still a nuance to McElvogue that lingers in his relationship with Summersby, and this often-unspoken support and even reverence of Stagg’s ability. The weight of Eisenhower’s decision; to send hundreds of thousands of soldiers to Normandy, is tangible in McElvogue’s performance, physically carrying the weight of it all in their stance.
The creative team go above expectation to cobble together the cramp fittings of the 1940s office with Jane Purves props, including the ever-important large-scale map of the British Isles and surrounding coastlines produced by Rob Shields. And with a 12-strong cast flittering around the stage, there are some rather spiffing costumes from Hazel Eadie, many of which would find a home in the 2014 or revitalised 2017 touring production. Dug Campbell’s music has a place of compliment, though not a necessity to this dialogue-heavy story – makes a welcome addition late into the production with Craig Robertson’s sound design which weaves the distant gunfire of the Normandy landings, with a softness to round out the travesty.
Utilising the set pieces to their best is Alison Porter as Lieutenant Kay Summersby, who has a vital part within the story in recognising Stagg’s brilliance and serving as a mediator for the testosterone flying around. And though the character suffers from Haig’s limitations in expanding character, Porter achieves tremendous growth for the role – particularly in their relationship with McElvogue’s Eisenhower, the pair stealing the show with their moments together. Bringing a fiery sense of performance but also a fragility of the world after the war – something unimaginable up until the final moments of the show.
The show is aided by a tight ensemble, all bringing fine performances which range from the paper stackers right through to Admirals and Generals. They all support Porter and the other principal cast, in particular Zander Nesbit, Alexander Cook, Kate Stephenson, and a delightfully humorous Phil Barnes as the electrician – forced to remain at the house after finding out ‘too much’ information.
And as the sun belts through the windows, Rob Shield’s lighting offers a glimpse of a new dawn, a new day, and the starting chapter of the conclusion of this bloody period of history. The Hill Street Theatre – with its dark wood rooms makes the perfect setting for Shield’s lighting, which easily conveys the unexpected heat of the summer, shifting to a playful rain effect when the air pressure does indeed change, with the help of some off-stage water splashes to add a little levity to the intensity of the situation.
Haig evidently had issues leaving his script behind, as the speed of the final twenty or so minutes begins to slow to an almost reversing pace. It’s only a distraction as we come to the final moments and isn’t something which can be helped – the direction of humour in these closing moments certainly helps push things along, complete with one remarkably touching reflection from Steven Bradley Croall and Porter as Stagg and Summersby see in a new world.
Leading with a trio of effective performers, Pressure finds itself balancing a nuanced and dialogue heavy-script with a strict sense of authenticity for the period – all without sacrificing the engagement. Haig’s tale has been vigorously renewed by Hannah Bradley Croall and Arkle Theatre, channelling a sense of dimension into these otherwise forgotten people who helped change the world in ways we may never fully appreciate: and they say the weather isn’t interesting.
Pressure runs at Hill Street Theatre until Saturday 22nd. Wednesday – Saturday at 19.30pm.
Running time – Two hours and thirty minutes with one interval. Suitable for ages 12+
Tickets begin from £15.00 and may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Rob Shields