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REVIEW: Pressure by David Haig

7 Feb – 15 Feb 2020

The pressure of the title arises from conflict between American and British meteorologists over the interpretation of weather forecast data and its consequences for the planned invasion of Europe, scheduled for 5th June 1944.

At the centre is Group Captain James Stagg (Nick Griffith). Onstage for nearly all of the play and with an impressive Scots’ accent, Griffith gave the role the unremitting focus it required.  Stagg is tasked with finding an accurate forecast for D-Day.  He relies on knowledge of northern European weather coupled with hourly scientific readings.  Interpretation is not straightforward.  Tim Kendrick’s pushy American, Colonel Irving Krick, is relying on data from previous years, suggesting that the weather for the 5thJune will be good. Krick, as Stagg admits, has a plausible hypothesis and also the ear of many American officers.

The decision on when to invade falls to General Eisenhower, played forcefully and with complete conviction by David Morley.  His relationship with his driver and aide, Lieutenant Kay Summersby, (Jenny Lloyd-Lyons) is nicely nuanced.  Lloyd-Lyons deftly shows how Summersby’s knowledge and insight assist Stagg to convince the Allied Top Brass.

From the very start there was a palpable sense of tension and wartime realism.   The action is all in one room and fairly static, with briefings delivered and meteorology undertaken, but the nerve-racking tension is never lost.  Our eyes, drawn through the spare set of utility furniture, to the meteorological information on the back wall, and the whole play propelled forward by the slick arrival and display of each new chart.  Andrew White’s Navy meteorologist and Mark Lee’s, Flight Lieutenant Andrew Carter, like Stagg a non-flying R.A.F specialist, keep the action focussed on this crucial ritual of updating information.

Most of the cast play more than one character. Liam Patrick handles an American accent as General “Tooey” Spaatz and is equally credible as Commander Colin Franklin, a British Naval Officer. Colin Mitchell has the biggest contrast to convey between the electrician drafted in to add telephone lines and the magisterial Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey.  Captain Johns (Alan Haynes) has one of the few funny moments which was well handled, and also played a British Naval Officer. Mark Bostock convinces as Sir Trafford Leigh Mallory.

The director, Carol Hunt, the cast and production team created a gripping production of a fascinating story.  It was a completely absorbing, well-acted production, and a superb start to the 2020 season.

Penny Jeffries

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