If you’d never heard of the James Stagg before David Haig‘s latest play Pressure, don’t feel bad: neither had he. Haig was approached by director John Dove and Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre who wanted to create a play about an unsung Scottish hero. They drew up a list of possible candidates and Stagg caught Haig’s eye. Thus began a massive research project into Stagg, meteorology and the impact of his weather forecasting on the D-Day invasion – as well as into the other real-life characters portrayed.
In summer 1944, southern England was in the midst of an extended heatwave (sound familiar?) and 350,000 troops were amassed in preparation for Operation Overlord, to invade Normandy and hasten the end of the Second World War, on Monday 5 June. The play takes place in the 72 hours leading up to the invasion, during which Lieutenant Irving P Krick, Hollywood’s meteorological movie consultant, is predicting a continuation of sunshine, while his Scottish counterpart, Group Captain James Stagg, is advising a violent change in climatic conditions. Who will Eisenhower heed?
At Monday’s post-show Q&A, Haig spoke at length about his work on Pressure and why he shied away from playing Stagg himself (two “famous Scottish actors” were initially approached), not least because he’d never played a Scot before and worried he couldn’t pull off Stagg’s Dalkeith accent.
We were joined in the discussion by Haig’s co-stars, who also play extensively researched, real-life character: Philip Cairns, who is Stagg’s confident American adversary Krick; Malcolm Sinclair, who is Dwight Eisenhower (Sinclair recalled how he was old enough to remember Ike, who was the US president when Malcolm was a child… and sometimes confused him with Jiminy Cricket!); and Laura Rogers, who is Eisenhower’s Irish-English attache (and wartime paramour) Kay Summersby.
There was a fantastic audience turnout for the post-show, with theatregoers keen to discuss how much of the play was accurate, both historically and meteorologically. Also covered: How do you make weather charts ‘not boring’? What did leading British playwright Howard Brenton tell Haig about the play’s ending? How have relatives of the characters portrayed been involved? In two alternative histories, what if Eisenhower had ignored either Stagg’s warning to cancel the invasion on 5 June or, the next day, his advice to seize an advantageous weather window and proceed on the morning of 6 June? Where has the journey of this play taken Haig and the company to date? And what next?