Review: ★★★★★ Pressure, Ambassadors Theatre

Going into the show knowing that it’s set in the lead up to D-day, it’s easy to assume that the title of this play refers to the emotional stress of planning the allied invasion of France. But in fact, the ‘Pressure’ described is environmental. This play, written by and starring David Haig, recounts the preparation for D-day from the point of view of the weather forecast office. It tells the story of one slightly reluctant scientist who has a pivotal impact of the course of the war. Over four days, Dr Stagg must determine whether the conditions will be suitable for the D-day landings despite only being able to accurately predict up to 24 hours in advance.

The set portrays Dr Stagg’s forecast room and doesn’t really change throughout except for the updates to the weather map at the back of the stage. There is a window in the corner where the lighting changes to portray the weather outside, a piece of information that becomes vital to the plot. The lighting is very impressive, a natural and realistic representation of what happens outside. The set and costumes are exactly what you would expect from a period piece, and everything down to the background music before the show starts adds to the wartime feel of the production. The whole cast gives a great performance, portraying both the tension and relief, order and chaos that are felt during the preparations.

The whole show is both poignant and subtly funny. There are many moments of humour, often from a wry observation of the difference between American and British attitudes. Phillip Cairns gives a great performance as a slightly brash and overconfident American meteorologist, a perfect contrast to David Haig’s stoic and gruff Scottish scientist. The show plays on this tension of different experiences, coming together in an argument of science against instinct, proven methods versus Stagg’s own experiences of the weather in Britain. The two sides need to come to an agreed, allied opinion despite their different attitudes and scientific methods.

It is amazing how compelling David Haig and Phillip Cairns manage to make an argument that is essentially two men deciding whether or not it will rain. All of the scientific language is fairly meaningless to the audience at the start of the play, but as it progresses you become more familiar with the process and know exactly what to look for on the weather map. Even though we all know that D-day went ahead and was successful, Haig still manages to build the tension and suspense until the final result is announced. He balances the overlying story of D-day with smaller, more personal plotlines, which help to portray the personal effects of the war in opposition to the massive number of troops involved in the D-day landings and the scale of the preparations involved.

Malcolm Sinclair plays perhaps the only well-known figure in the play, General Eisenhower. He shows Eisenhower’s turmoil over making a decision that will affect thousands of lives, bringing both comedy and emotion to the performance, with a contrast of shouting orders and more personal revelations of his struggle to make such an important decision. Laura Rogers plays Kay Summersby, Eisenhower’s assistant, and gives an equally emotional performance. She is an easy character to support as she breaks through Dr Stagg’s tough exterior, but she is also an interesting character in her own right, giving an insight into the people who supported the major figures that history remembers.

The main conflict is between scientific precedent and the instincts of someone who fundamentally understands the British climate. The affectionate and poetic way that Haig describes the weather is thought-provoking, causing the audience to look at something normally seen as mundane in a completely different way. This simple, overlooked perspective creates a new way of looking at such a famous event, creating a moving, exciting and enjoyable story.

Emma Grimsley
Emma Grimsley

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