David Haig's WWII drama makes weather forecasting appear both scientifically exciting and theatrically engaging
Taking a look at one of WWII’s lesser known heroes, David Haig’s new play examines the role of meteorology in warfare through the experience of Dr James Stagg. Faced with the responsibility of predicting the weather in the run-up to D-Day, Stagg is presented as a stubborn, compassionate man who combined scientific brilliance with an intuitive sense of the British climate’s mercurial humours.
Craig, playing Stagg, lends his hero a taciturn dignity, passionate about family, forecasting and the soldiers whom he could be sending to their deaths. His battles with his American rival Krik (played with necessary smarm by Tim Beckmann) and chief of staff Eisenhower (a charismatic Malcolm Sinclair) drive the action, although subplots (Stagg’s wife is about to give birth and Eisenhower is having an affair with his driver) blur the focus. As if not trusting war against Nazis to provide excitement, the second act is cluttered with these intimate dilemmas, slowing the pace.
Yet Craig’s script uncovers the fascinating detail of Stagg’s meteorology, conjuring a palpable conflict from symbols on a map and a series of weather reports. Both Sinclair and Craig are impressive– although Eisenhower’s later speeches feel drafted from a generic war movie, Sinclair delivers them movingly. And John Dove’s direction is dynamic, capturing the shifts of power between the men and the urgency of their discussions.
The strength of Pressure, however, is in the first act’s clever depiction of the anxiety of the Allied Command: the austere Stagg clashing with Eisenhower’s amiable lover and assistant, Krik’s brash confidence and Eisenhower’s great sense of doubt. While the performance never quite manages to capture the immensity of the decisions being made – figures of potential casualties are thrown about – it takes an unlikely hero and subject, and makes weather forecasting appear both scientifically exciting and theatrically engaging.
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 24 May.