Pressure – Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Writer: David Haig. Director: John Dove.
A co-production with Chichester Festival Theatre.
Cast: David Haig, Laura Rogers, Robert Jack, Anthony Bowers, Scott Gilmour, Malcolm Sinclair, Tim Beckmann, Michael Mackenzie, Alister Cameron, Gilly Gilchrist
“Soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force. You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.” Dwight D. Eisenhower – 6 June, 1944
Perhaps the most important weather forecast ever made was for D-day, the Allied invasion of France in 1944. The essential conditions were a full moon, a low tide, little cloud cover, light winds and low seas. There would be a full moon and low tide on 5th, 6th and 7th June, but what about the weather?
Based on a true story, “Pressure” by renowned stage, TV and film actor, David Haig, re-creates the final, crucial days of planning Operation Overlord under General Eisenhower.
The setting is the meteorologists’ office at the Supreme Command HQ, Southwick House, Portsmouth. A vast weather map of the UK, Europe, Atlantic Ocean and USA, dominates the room. The date is 1300 GMT, Friday 2 June, 1944.
The décor and furnishings capture the period – muddy-mustard walls, a couple of wooden desks, telephone, anglepoise lamps, shabby chairs, filing cabinets. A French window opens onto a balcony – the droning sound of RAF fighter bombers can be heard outside.
Marching briskly into the room is Group Captain Dr. James Stagg – he looks distastefully at the surroundings, dropping his briefcase on a desk. He immediately barks orders at a young Army clerk, Kay Summersby, to arrange more telephones and a typewriter.
Dr Stagg, a Scottish Physicist and superintendent at Kew Observatory, has been appointed the chief meteorological adviser to Eisenhower, working in consultation with the American Colonel Irving Krick.
A mood of tension permeates the atmosphere as the British and American Command team enter the room for a meeting –General Eisenhower, Admiral Bertie Ramsay, Air Chief Marshall Leigh-Mallory, General Spaatz, Flight Lieutentant Carter.
With three days before the proposed date for D day, the allied forces are awaiting instructions. All that Eisenhower requires is an accurate weather forecast.
‘In 21 hours I have to give the order for 5,000 naval vessels harboured around these islands to leave their ports and sail south. They’re waiting in Belfast, Grimsby, Liverpool, Greenock and Scapa Flow. You gotta help me here guys. Do I give the order to sail or not?’‘
Looking out at the blue sky, Krick is convinced the glorious sun will continue, his theory is based on “the proof is in the past”, from the weather pattern of June 1929. But Stagg is convinced stormy weather is on the way caused by the jet stream blowing a force 6 gale into the English channel – “there is nothing predictable about British weather”, he declares dogmatically.
The Command team work day and night, sustained by black coffee, gathering facts, figures, data, telephones ringing, orders given, tempers flaring, the countdown has started to make the final decision.
June 4th – D Day minus one. Stagg stands centre stage, studying the swirling lines of isobars, red marked zones L4, L 5, L6, H, H on the weather chart. He trusts his instinct that the Low pressure is looming and the fine weather will turn. But the sun still blazes down on Portsmouth and Krick concentrates on the high pressure over the Azores.
The two men are like sparring partners in a boxing match, with Eisenhower as the referee. But whose decision can he trust if they don’t agree?
David Haig captures Dr Stagg’s serious intellect and stoic stubbornness with the clear, crisp tones of a middle class Edinburgh accent perfectly pitched. As the drama intensifies, both in his professional role and personal family life, we see a chink of a sensitive soul beneath his stern expression.
Likewise, Malcolm Sinclair portrays Eisenhower’s military persona as well as the private man, his jacket off, sipping whisky, munching a doughnut. The contrast in personality, attitude and language between the American and the Scotsman is subtly dramatised in several poignant scenes.
Observing from the sidelines, Kay Summersby (a charming performance by Laura Rogers), understands the critical situation for the two men, with caring efficiency.
Meticulously directed, the pace shifts between high energy and quiet reflective moments: Stagg walks onto the balcony to feel the wind and the rain, akin to King Lear facing the storm, “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout” …
As we approach the 70th anniversary of D Day, this is a timely tribute to James Stagg, the unsung hero whose courageous weather forecast changed the course of history.
The realistic sense of place, period and fast paced action of this thrilling, compassionate wartime tale is quite extraordinary – its dramatic punch hits you with the force of an electric storm. In short, “Pressure” is a theatrical masterpiece.
A Great Place to Stay.
Eisenhower Apartments, Culzean Castle, Ayrshire:
These grand seaview apartments were given to General Eisenhower in recognition of his wartime achievements. He stayed here with his family on several occasions as General and later as US President. Today, they offer luxury accommodation for up to 12 guests, retaining period memorabilia and furnishings.