|Written by||David Haig|
|Date premiered||1 May 2014|
|Place premiered||Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh|
|Setting||1944, Operation Overlord|
Pressure is a play written by David Haig. It made its world premiere at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh in May 2014, a year later than originally planned, before transferring to the Chichester Festival at the end of the same month. The play centres on the true story of James Stagg and Operation Overlord, in particular the weather-forecasting for the D-Day landings and the resultant tensions between Dwight D. Eisenhower, James Stagg and Irving P. Krick.
Pressure is written by playwright and actor David Haig. The play was initially due to make its world premiere in May 2013, before transferring to the Chichester Festival Theatre, with whom the play is co-produced, however was postponed due to difficulty in casting the lead role. On 30 April 2013, it was announced the play would now premiere as part of the Lyceum Theatre's 2013-14 season and would begin previews at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh on 1 May 2014, with an official opening night on 6 May, booking for a limited period until 24 May. The play came about after John Dove approached Haig to write the play around two and a half years prior.
Haig went on to play the lead role of James Stagg himself, despite having initially intended not to do so over his fears that he could not play "a Scot authentically". Speaking about playing the role, Haig said that "One thing I am drawing on is people who carry anxiety well camouflaged within an apparently confident exterior. That's me, but it also happens to be James Stagg. His brusqueness, his efficiency, his professionalism is what came out on the top, but inside he's extremely anxious about the whole scenario. He goes through a journey in trying to keep it together."
The play is directed by John Dove, with design by Colin Richmond, lighting design by Tim Mitchell, video design by Andrzej Goulding and music and sound design by Philip Pinsky. Following its premiere production the play transferred to the Minerva Theatre, as part of the Chichester Festival, where it ran from 31 May to 28 June 2014. A typical performance runs two hours and 20 minutes, including one interval of 20 mins.
In 2018 the original production was revived for a UK tour, in a partnership between the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre and the Touring Consortium Theatre Company. The tour ran from 28 March 2018, until 28 April and visited Cambridge, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Guildford, Cheltenham, Bath, Richmond and London's Park Theatre. Following completion of the tour the production transferred to the West End's Ambassadors Theatre, where it ran from 6 June 2018 until 1 September. The West End transfer marks the 74th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Extracts from the play were performed at Portsmouth on 5 June 2019 for the Queen, President Trump and other world leaders, to help mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
The play is set in 1944 at Southwick House, the headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force in the 72-hour period leading up to the launch of Operation Overlord. Group captain James Stagg is the chief meteorologist who, having studied weather patterns in the North Atlantic over a period of many years, is advising Dwight D. Eisenhower that, despite a prolonged heat wave, weather conditions will suddenly deteriorate sharply on D-Day (currently to be June 5th), and that the colossal logistical task of landing 150,000 soldiers in occupied France should therefore be postponed.
American celebrity weatherman Irving P. Krick (here portrayed as Stagg's assistant) forecasts another calm sunny day. But Stagg is convinced that a storm is coming. Under the most intense pressure, both personal and military, Stagg seeks to persuade Eisenhower that his forecast of events is correct.
Stagg and his American deputy Donald Yates were advised by three two-man teams of meteorologists, with Krick heading the USAAF team. In fact the two British teams supported a postponement of the invasion until June 6th, particularly the Norwegian Sverre Petterssen; see Weather forecasting for Operation Overlord .
Principal roles and original cast
|Character||Edinburgh performer||Chichester performer||2018 UK Tour|
|Group captain James Stagg||David Haig|
|Young Naval Rating/Hamilton||Scott Gilmour||Robert Heard|
|Lieutenant Battersby / Captain Johns||Anthony Bowers||William Mannering|
|Commander Franklin / General "Tooey" Spaatz||Gilly Gilchrist||Mark Jax|
|Andrew||Robert Jack||Bert Seymour|
|Electrician / Admiral Bertram Ramsay||Michael Mackenzie|
|Kay Summersby||Laura Rogers|
|General Dwight D. Eisenhower||Malcolm Sinclair|
|Colonel Irving P. Krick||Tim Beckmann||Philip Cairns|
|Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory||Alister Cameron|
The diving press picked up on this production and looked at the play through the eyes of someone who know first hand just how important accurate forecasts are. Rosemary E Lunn observed in X-Ray Magazine " "Ardent British divers understand that our weather is uniquely complex. We are aware how changeable and challenging UK coastal weather is - even in the summer. We can plan a dive to the enth degree and the weather may be kind. Or it will be less than kind."
"I've been fortunate enough to dive a landing craft off the English south coast. The best way to describe its shape to someone who has never seen one before, is that it closely resembles a square biscuit tin. This type of craft needs a flat sea and the forecast that Stagg gave was anything but a quiet sea. Above a force 5 and the ships would capsize resulting in as many as 70,000 - 80,000 men drowning. A catastrophic loss of life. A number of years later (August 2017) I dived the wrecks off Normandy. The dive trip I was on was blessed with some great weather. We had one day where it was a bit lumpy and we couldn't dive. At the time I didn't give it much thought, but after watching 'Pressure' it made me reconsider the weather conditions the troops endured to get to France."
The production received mostly positive reviews. Clare Brennan in The Observer wrote: the play is "intricately three-dimensional." "On one level, events are conveyed as well-crafted drama. On another level, the play addresses ideas – about belief and judgment; private and public life; personal and universal emotions; the place of the individual in the vastness of war; the role of nature in all our lives. "Pressure" is, throughout, both a reality and a multifaceted metaphor." Brennan went on to praise the quality of the acting in the production saying "The acting, like the writing, is sharp, witty and affecting – never sententious. The three key characters in the 10-strong ensemble are outstanding."
Joyce Mcmillan in The Scotsman wrote that Pressure is "well-shaped, tightly-constructed, and skilfully presented. She added, "You won't see anything to surpass Pressure in Scottish theatre this year and this play comes as a sharp reminder that if you want to challenge traditional theatrical forms with any success, you first have to learn how to build them, and build them well." Josie Balfour in the Edinburgh Evening News wrote: "Haig's script quickly sets up the story and plunges into a fast paced, confident stride, pausing only briefly before an almighty storm." Going on to discuss the direction she added that Dove maintains a "light touch, with the production simply staged and the actors well guided."
Some were only slightly more critical. Allan Radcliffe in The Times noted that the "play delights with its strong classical structure" and that it moves at "a urgent pace", but noted that he felt it began to "run out of steam in the play's overlong closing chapter." He also praised the design and lighting saying "The charged atmosphere is enhanced by Tim Mitchell's lighting design, which saturates Colin Richmond's set (an old house cluttered with wartime ephemera) with fierce sunlight." The Stage notes the play is both "fascinating and dramatic" and is a "thunderous piece of theatre." It however went on to note the slowing pace stating its "Tempestuous and highly charged in its opening scenes, but lingering away into domestic affairs."
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