Can you write a good play about a weather forecast? Would you see play about a weather forecast when you know very well what the weather was like on the date for which a forecast was necessary? The answer is a resounding Yes.
The play is Pressure by David Haig and it is now playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto. You should see it for many good reasons the most essential being that you will enjoy it thoroughly.
Let’s begin. It is 1:00 p.m. on Friday, June 2, 1944 and the weatherman is Dr James Stagg (Kevin Doyle) who must forecast accurately what the weather conditions will be on Monday, Morning June 5. General Eisenhower (Malcolm Sinclair) informs him of the enormity of the reason. He informs Stagg that 7000 vessels, 160,000 ground troops, 200,000 naval personnel, 15 hospital ships, 8000 doctors and 4 airborne divisions are about to embark on the biggest amphibious landing in history. Everything is ready and the only thing that can stop the expedition is the weather. Stagg has to predict it accurately or the landing could prove to be a disaster.
We are in the opening scene of the play. Haig builds up suspense, provides humour and human conflict and personal problems to keep the plot moving and fascinating and entertaining us.
Colonel Irving Krick (Philip Cairns) is the expert American meteorologist who knows the historic weather for June 5th and believes that the same conditions will prevail on June 5, 1944. Stagg, a meticulous scientist, looks at the evidence carefully and disagrees with Krick. The American and British forces’ brass, General “Tooey” Spaatz (Stuart Milligan) and Air Chief Marshall Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory (David Sibley), in their smart uniforms, must choose whom to support. But the decision lies solely with Eisenhower. He is gruff and humane and the play does nothing to denigrate his status.
The lovely Lieutenant Kay Summersby (Laura Rogers) is Eisenhower’s chauffeur and private secretary and Haig presents them as close to each other without suggesting a more intimate relationship. Summersby does not want the war to end because that will finish her relationship with the general. She is a decent human being and perhaps the most attractive character in the play.
Eisenhower is ready to order the landing to begin on Monday, June 5. Stagg cannot be certain because as he makes it clear, long-term forecasts are informed guesses and twenty-four hours are considered long term.
The personal relationship between Eisenhower and Kay Summersby is in the end tragic for her. But we see her humanity in what is happening to Stagg. His wife is in hospital having a difficult delivery and her survival is up in the air. He wants to go and see her but the armed guards well not let him. Security, you know. Kay makes arrangements through Eisenhower and she goes and sees his wife.
The acting is outstanding. Doyle as Stagg starts as a dour, unsmiling professional but develops into a decent human being, knowledgeable and sympathetic. Sinclair’s Eisenhower is commanding and demanding but deeply aware of his responsibility and as such he is also humane. Cairns as Krick is arrogant, a bit silly and one may say typically American. A fine cast overall.
The set by Colin Richmond consists of an unprepossessing large room with huge maps of the Atlantic from Newfoundland to the French coast. Wind currents are shown on it and there is a constant flow of information about changing conditions. Not all of it is comprehensible to mere mortals but we always know what is happening and whether the prevailing conditions or the forecast are favourable for an amphibious landing on a massive scale.
The world knows that Stagg’s conclusion about weather conditions were favourable for the landing June 6th and not on the 5th as planned so meticulously. Eisenhower took Stagg’s advice over that of that of the American Krick. The landing was successful.
Haig does justice to the persons planning the Normandy landing and Pressure, directed by John Dove and Josh Roche is a wonderful, suspenseful, humorous and humane play that is a joy to see.