If there’s one thing the British enjoy more than talking about the weather, it’s making the glib observation that the British enjoy talking about the weather. But David Haig’s high-stakes play about cold fronts is anything but banal weather chat. Pressure is a love letter to the country’s uniquely capricious skies, telling the true story of two rival weathermen on the eve of D-Day, whose conflicting forecasts will ultimately decide whether or not the biggest invasion in military history will go ahead as planned.
On the American side is Colonel Krick (Philip Cairns) a brash, bright-eyed yank and the pet meteorologist of General Eisenhower (Malcolm Sinclair). Fighting the British corner is Captain James Stagg (played by Haig himself), a resolute Scot who leans into modern forecasting techniques and bemoans the American’s over-reliance on historical data. When Stagg impatiently tutors his rival on the unpredictable nature of British weather, he elicits knowing chuckles from the crowd.
Haig knows his audience well – this play likely wouldn’t fly outside of the UK – and his withering remarks about windy days at the seaside and droll recollections of scorchers in the Hebrides are each underscored by the seriousness of the historic decision these two characters are to make.
The conflict between the pair plays out in snapshots, and is set entirely within the hastily requisitioned forecasting room of the army headquarters. Every few hours a new update from Allied weather ships dotted throughout the Atlantic brings with it a new stage-filling meteorological chart, which is dramatically unfurled each time to reveal the advancing set of isobars that may or may not threaten the Normandy Landing.
For better or worse, Haig doesn’t shy away from the technical side of forecasting the weather. Pressure is unfiltered weather porn, with a dense and unashamedly jargon-heavy script. Fans of Michael Fish will be standing in their seats by the end of the first act, tears streaming down their faces. Others will struggle to be roused by an increasingly exasperated Haig pointing at an area of low pressure and imploring his counterpart to see what he sees, god dammit man.
Not much is done to establish either Stagg or Krick’s characters before their meteorological tete-a-tete, which leaves the debate feeling rhetorical for those not invested in the minute details of the forecasting. And if you know your history you’ll know which weatherman comes out on top, which shouldn’t necessarily rob the story of its stakes but in this case does. The side-plots – a thinly sketched romance between Eisenhower and his attaché, and Stagg’s wife’s problematic off-stage labour, which rather clumsily mirrors his own situation – fail to pick up the dramatic slack.
Once the business of forecasting the weather is done, the latter half of the play devolves into some long-winded monologuing on the sacrifices of war and, inexplicably, the differences between rugby and American football. All of it less interesting than the shipping forecast. Like a passing storm, Pressure slowly peters out before ending on a low-energy whimper, but at its gusty heights it’s a impassioned and geeky retelling of one of World War Two’s most fascinating footnotes.