'Pressure' by David Haig
Royal Alexandra Theatre
Cylla Von Tiedemann
Kevin Doyle as Dr. James Stagg
The rising, palpable tension of ‘Pressure’ becomes increasingly intensified thanks to the strong ensemble work.
David Haig’s script centres around Dr. James Stagg and the weather forecasts that will determine the date of the D-Day landings as part of Operation Overlord. The play is set in 1944 in Southwick House, the headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force, during seventy-two intensively fraught hours with moments of humour to help ease the tension. General Dwight D. ‘Ike’ Eisenhower (Malcolm Sinclair) leads the Allied Forces that are looking to invade the European continent from Britain.
Eisenhower recognizes the weather conditions over the English Channel could pose problems, so he hires two individuals to monitor the weather conditions: Stagg (Kevin Doyle of ‘Downton Abbey’), the Scottish chief meteorologist who has studied the weather patterns of the North Atlantic. Colonel Irving P. Krick’s (Philip Cairns) basic meteorological skills are at odds with Stagg’s as they analyze weather patterns to make future predictions about the date of the D-Day invasion.
Stagg believes the weather conditions will deteriorate fast on June 5, the current date for the D-Day landing, and that the invasion should be postponed. Since there has been a heatwave for quite some time, Krick believes the forecast will be sunny and pleasant and therefore the invasion should continue as planned. Obviously, the tension rises as Eisenhower tries to decide which is the correct path to follow.
At this opening Sunday matinee performance, I couldn’t hear the actors at the top of the show for several minutes. Whether the actors could sense it or not, this momentary glitch appeared to get fixed.
The rising, palpable tension of ‘Pressure’ becomes increasingly intensified thanks to the strong ensemble work. Don’t let the conversation surrounding the weather data input confuse you. Stay focused and pay close attention because directors John Dove and Josh Roche have uniquely woven the principal storyline and personal backstories seamlessly to produce a modern suspense tale of the theatre.
Kevin Doyle delivers a natural and believable nuanced performance of a torn man underneath a tough exterior. He questions whether the forecast he predicts will be the correct one. His wife is about to give birth to their second child in hospital and Stagg can’t be there because he would be deserting his post during wartime. Philip Cairns’ Krick is cocky and sometimes smarmy which makes his comeuppance at the end satisfying.
One of the highlights of ‘Pressure’ is Malcolm Sinclair’s terrific portrayal of General ‘Ike’ Eisenhower from his gruff, surly voice right down to his aviator sunglasses. Sinclair regally commands the stage each time he enters. The silent standoff between him and Stagg is rife with complete uneasiness. The power of silence at that moment said so much about what the two were feeling at that moment.
Laura Rogers’ Kay Summersby bravely stands her ground as the conversation grows heated moment by moment concerning the invasion. She is proud to be working with Eisenhower but the final conversation between the two of them in the second act again says so much in the silence when Kay realizes Ike cannot deliver what he has promised to her. What made Rogers’ performance as Kay so memorable for me was seeing that it wasn’t only just the men who kept things going during this time. Women also held a valued place.
Supporting actors Matthew Darcy, Robert Heard, David Killick, James Sheldon, Stuart Milligan, Molly Roberts, and David Sibley solidly contribute to the development of the possibility that the landings could go horribly wrong. History tells us that many lives were lost here and that is one of the tragic sad realities of this story.
The physical look and sound of the production have been greatly enhanced thanks to Tim Mitchell’s lighting design, Philip Pinsky’s sound and Andrzej Goulding’s video designs. Mitchell’s lighting design is striking to view as we watch the colours change from day to dusk to twilight. Pinsky’s sound nicely enveloped the theatre, especially with the sound of the plane flying overhead. I felt completely transported back to that time. Goulding’s video designs soundly reflect the date and time of the action within the play. Josie Thomas’s costume perfectly evoked the World War 2 era.
Colin Richmond’s set design showcases how messy this room was in wartime. A much-needed laugh was at the top of the show when Kevin Doyle uses his arm to sweep all the unnecessary clutter from the desk to the floor. Perfect timing in execution which again says so much in its delivery.
Final Comments: Listening to conversations from audience members around me upon exiting the theatre was enlightening, to say the least. One individual commented on how refreshing it was that it’s not the rah, rah story of Americans coming in to save the day. Yes, the Americans were part of the liberation but there were other countries also involved in the operation.
‘Pressure’ seems the most appropriate title. It refers to the barometric pressure of the weather as Stagg makes reference to the barometer on the wall a few times. Not only does it refer to the principal storyline of the D-Day Landings, but barometric pressure can also influence and affect those life moments of ordinary individuals where we are also put to the test to see how much mettle we are made from.
‘Pressure’ becomes a modern suspense tale of intrigue in the theatre.
Go see it.
Running time: approximately two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
‘Pressure’ runs until March 5 at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King Street West. For tickets, visit mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333.
JONATHAN CHURCH THEATRE PRODUCTIONS, JENNY KING, OLIVER MACKWOOD PRODUCTIONS and CAMBRIDGE ARTS THEATRE present
THE ROYAL LYCEUM THEATRE EDINBURGH and CHICHESTER FESTIVAL THEATRE PRODUCTION OF:
‘Pressure’ by David Haig
Directed by John Dove and Josh Roche
Consultant Producer Canada: Paul Elliott
Designer: Colin Richmond
Lighting Designer: Tim Mitchell
Composer & Sound Designer: Philip Pinsky
Video Designer: Andrzej Goulding
Costume Supervisor: Josie Thomas
Production Manager: Mark Carey
Performers: Philip Cairns, Matthew Darcy, Kevin Doyle, Robert Heard, David Killick, James Sheldon, Stuart Milligan, Molly Roberts, Laura Rogers, David Sibley, Malcolm Sinclair