by Lynn on February 1, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, Ont. until March 5, 2023.

Written by David Haig

Directed by John Dove and Josh Roche

Designed by Colin Richmond

Lighting by Tim Mitchell

Composed and sound by Philip Pinsky

Video designer, Andrzej Goulding

Cast: Philip Cairns

Matthew Darcy

Kevin Doyle

Robert Heard

David Killick

Luke Jasztal

Stuart Milligan

Molly Roberts

Laura Rogers

James Sheldon

David Sibley

Malcolm Sinclair

John Vernon

Playwright David Haig has written a play loaded with data and drama about the gut-twisting decisions that had to be made about invading Normandy, and it all depended on that most undependable thing—the weather. The production ramps up the tension and at its centre is a dandy performance by Kevin Doyle who never plays a false or sentimental note.

The Story. Its Friday, June 2, 1944. Dr. James Stagg, a respected British meteorologist, is engaged to advise General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower on whether the weather will be good enough on Monday, June 5 so that Allied troops can storm the beaches of Normandy for D-Day.

Dr. Stagg is a cautious, confident man. He knows what Eisenhower wants – to predict the weather, and English weather at that—is impossible. Eisenhower still wants it. Also at play is that there is an American contingent of advisers with opposing views. Thousands of people’s lives are at stake. Who does Eisenhower trust in order to make such an important decision about when to invade?

The Production. The production opens on a large, rather bare room. There is a desk and chair. There is one phone on the desk. Stage left are double doors with panes of glass that lead outside. Thin cotton curtains hang down in front of the doors. There are shutters that can be pulled to cover the glass—this is war time so blacking out the light is imperative.

Dr. Stagg (Kevin Doyle) enters the room and is immediately irritated with its inadequacy. Saying to himself, that there are not enough phones or desks, or charts or anything that would deem this room a barometric pressure (weather) room. From the get-go, Kevin Doyle as Dr. Stagg is in total control of the seriousness of his task. He is also pre-occupied. His wife is close to giving birth to their second child. Her health is fragile. The previous birth was difficult. So not only does Dr. Stagg have to do the impossible—predict the weather three days hence–he is fretting about his wife’s condition and he can’t go and be with her.

His main opposition to his decisions is Colonel Irving P. Krick (Philip Cairns). Krick has that easy demeanor who calls all women ‘sweet-heart’ and is a jokey ‘man’s man.’ The scenes where Krick and Dr. Stagg spar over data and the history of the data are fascinating.  Dr. Stagg wins the argument with sound facts over Krick’s good humour and breezy demeanor. Again, as Dr. Stagg Kevin Doyle is precise in his arguments, giving the reasoning an urgency. He is under ‘pressure’ to get it right. As Krick, Philip Cairns easily crumbles because he hasn’t got the mental nimbleness that Dr. Stagg does.

When the room is fitted out with another desk, several phones, many charts plotting the high- and low-pressure areas, the various storms in the area and the jet stream (which Cairns questions even exists), the pace and drama of the situation ramps up to warp speed. Sometimes courtesy falls by the wayside when phones are ringing and the calls provide more data to chart how close storms are; how brisk the winds are; if there’s a full moon etc.

In directors John Dove and Josh Roche’s co-direction, entrances of characters are startling in their speed. Doors bang open and characters enter bellowing orders. Malcolm Sinclair as General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower is a commanding presence. He is all military business, giving orders, demanding answers and impatient when he doesn’t get what he wants. He weighs the information carefully in order to make the right decision. There is arrogance in the playing as there is in all the actors playing Americans, it’s almost like a cliché. But with Malcolm Sinclair’s “Ike” it’s earned—“Ike” Eisenhower is the commander of this operation and his commanding attitude is earned.

With other actors playing American’s, not so much. Too often the acting is so much facial and eye-brow squunching. Laura Rogers plays Kay Summersby, a British member of the transport corps. She was Eisenhower’s chauffer for the war and as indicated in the play, had a personal and close relationship with him. Laura Rogers’ scenes with Malcolm Sinclair as Kay and Ike respectively are tender, good natured and sweet, otherwise they are both all business.

The urgency of gathering data rises considerably as time ticks by. The date and time are projected on the back wall of the set. Phones ring frequently providing more data which the characters repeat in a heightened voice, making notes, creating charts. The information is then plotted on the charts to track the storms, etc. The audience gets a sense of the changes happening. The delicate swaying of the curtains in a breeze that then flips with more activity, suggests that a much-needed storm is approaching, as Stagg predicted. That little piece of business makes the audience aware of the barometric changes.

David Haig’s complex, compelling play is full of drama and complex ideas that are gradually made clear. He has captured the various characters who spar, claim space and take it as they wrangle to be the one who is right. Pressure is a play about something no one understands, but talks about all the time—the weather. It will sneak up and move you, like a gust of wind.

Comment. There are so many numbers whizzing in the air in David Haig’s compelling play; so many numbers for latitude and longitude, etc. so much for pressure etc. that the viewer might think they are drowning in incomprehensible data and they will ‘never get it’ and the play goes by, leaving the viewer confused. Forget that; put on your water wings and float on it. This is what those characters needed to give Ike, the information he needed to make a decision. When Dr. Stagg sees the calculations and realizes something, the audience is included in realizing what is happening. Pressure is a bold play about a weekend that changed the course of history.     

Mirvish Productions presents:

Plays until March 5, 2023

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes approx.

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