Park Theatre, London – until 28 April 2018
David Haig’s highly engaging play and performance as James Stagg perfectly highlights just how the history of the Second World War could have been changed completely had it not been for one man’s decision…
How would you feel knowing that your decision could change the course of history or the outcome of a conflict? This is a dilemma right at the heart of David Haig’s intense but fascinating play based on the true story surrounding the D-Day landings in 1944.
This little known and remembered story follows the work of Group Captain James Martin Stagg, a British Royal Air Force meteorologist who has the job of telling General Eisenhower such a significant weather forecast that it will have a major impact on the D-Day landings. Along the way, there is a lot of conflict, passion and frustration that is compelling to watch unfold, thanks to John Dove’s focused production and strong performances from all of the cast.
From the opening scene all the way through to the slightly clunky ending, Dove’s production is brisk but with some surprising moments of humour that keep the play from feeling too clinical, highlighting the huge impact that the wrong decision would have had on the overall war effort as well as revealing the more humane side to the characters.
Haig’s play has been clearly deeply researched with great care that still allows the audience to understand the enormity and pressure felt by all those involved with the D-Day landings. However, although the build-up to the landings is beautifully created, it feels as though the ending in which the characters learn more about each other feels oddly placed and not quite right.
The first act is perhaps the strongest as it is focused on whose weather forecast Eisenhower will follow – that of the pessimistic Stagg or the overly confident and optimistic Colonel Irving P Krick. As the pair discuss with great passion both arguments to Eisenhow and the other key players involved with the mission, the audience are kept guessing until end of the first act about the final decision – meaning there is very little left for the second act, which feels longer and less gripping with less direction to go in.
But John Dove’s production has great control and intensity about it that keeps the audience hooked on what is happening, strongly reflected in the performances he has managed to draw out of the cast. Leading the way as Group Captain James Martin Stagg, David Haig delivers a flawless performance with every line he utters and the way in which he holds himself capturing the immense pressure of his character perfectly. When he nearly has a breakdown over the situation he is placed in as well as the worry with regards to his wife being in labour is genuinely heartbreaking to watch.
There are excellent performances to be found elsewhere as well. Malcolm Sinclair as General Eisenhower is brilliantly brisk and commanding, particularly when his frustration boils over and is directed at Stagg for his pessimistic (if accurate view), while Philip Cairns as the initially arrogant Krick develops nicely as the story begins to unfold. Bert Seymour as the loyal and dependable Andrew is strong support, while Laura Rogers is equally reliable providing a nice chemistry with Haig and Sinclair.
Pressure has plenty of drama and intensity to make for a brilliant production – but could use some editing to sharpen the ending up more and to keep its focus. But it is undeniably a fascinating and gripping play to watch unfold.