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Pressure (play)

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Pressure (play)

Pressure
Official poster of the 2014 Lyceum production
Written by David Haig
Date premiered 1 May 2014 (2014-05-01)
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.

Production history

Pressure is written by playwright and actor David Haig.[1] 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.[2] On 30 April 2013, it was announced the play would now premiere as part of the Lyceum Theatre's 2013-14 season[3] and would begin previews at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh on 1 May 2014,[4] with an official opening night on 6 May,[5] booking for a limited period until 24 May.[6] The play came about after John Dove approached Haig to write the play around two and a half years prior.[7] 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.”[8]

The play is directed by John Dove,[9] with design by Colin Richmond,[10] lighting design by Tim Mitchell,[10] video design by Andrzej Goulding[10] and music and sound design by Philip Pinsky.[11] Following its premiere production the play transferred to the Minerva Theatre, as part of the Chichester Festival, where it will run from 31 May to 28 June 2014.[12] A typical performance runs two hours and 20 minutes, including one interval of 20 mins.[13]

Synopsis

The play is set over a 72-hour period in 1944[4] at Southwick House, the headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force[14] and centre's around Operation Overlord.[4] Group captain James Stagg is the chief meteorologist,[15] advising Dwight D. Eisenhower on whether the weather conditions are correct to proceed with the D-Day landings, or if they should be delayed.[16][17] Stagg's assistant and American celebrity weatherman Irving P. Krick[18] forecasts a calm sunny day, however in contrast Stagg who knows the volatile nature of the local atmosphere better predicts severe storms, which would make it impossible to land the 150,000 soldiers involved successfully and lead to far higher casualties from the weather and enemy action.[19] Under intense personal[20] and military pressure, Stagg seeks to persuade Eisenhower his version of events is correct and thus keep the landings on-schedule, whilst keeping weather-related casualties to a minimum.[4][21]

Principal roles and original cast

Original cast of Pressure
Character Edinburgh performer[22] Chichester performer[23]
Group captain James Stagg David Haig
Young Naval Rating Scott Gilmour
Lieutenant Battersby / Captain Johns Anthony Bowers
Commander Franklin / General “Tooey” Spaatz Gilly Gilchrist
Andrew Robert Jack
Electrician / Admiral Bertram Ramsay Michael Mackenzie
Kay Summersby Laura Rogers
General Dwight D. Eisenhower Malcolm Sinclair
Colonel Irving P. Krick Tim Beckmann
Air Chief Marshall Trafford Leigh-Mallory Alister Cameron

Critical reception

Lyceum production

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."[24] 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."[25] Josie Balfour in 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."[26]

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."[27] 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 page stating its "Tempestuous and highly charged in its opening scenes, but lingering away into domestic affairs."[28]

References

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