As well as working on ‘buckets‘ this summer, I have another little, personal project for the three months before third year. I am trying to see as much theatre as I possibly can, so the aim is to go and see something at the theatre every week that I am in the UK until I go back to uni. Some things are booked way in advance (Hamilton is the last week of August and I could not be more excited!) But I also want to be spontaneous and book last minute tickets when I have a spare evening (if anyone wants to come with me one week, drop me a message 😉 ) So, I thought I’d document this little journey with a post after each show – hopefully I’ll be able to keep this up once rehearsals get started!!
Date: Tuesday 19th June 2018
Playwright: David Haig
Theatre: Ambassador’s Theatre, London
First performed: May 2014, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
I knew virtually nothing about this play before booking tickets. But I had a spare evening so scrolled through TodayTix looking for something that caught my eye. Having been watching the television show ‘Band of Brothers’ (my admiration for this is a whole different post) a play about the D-Day landings certainly sounded appealing so I booked my ticket and headed off to the theatre.
‘Pressure’ tells the story of James Stagg, a scottish meteorologist, beginning on Friday 2nd June 1944 where he arrives to advise General Eisenhower about the weather conditions for his invasion of France in World War 2. Stagg warns of heavy rain, low cloud and poor visability on the day of the planned invasion (Monday 5th June 1944) , contrary to his american colleagues claiming that the fine, clear weather will continue. Knowing the outcome of this disagreement (that Eisenhower would ultimately decide to move the landings to Tuesday 6th June 1944) gave the piece and almost brechtian quality, only increasing my involvement in the play, as we know Stagg speaks the truth and are only wondering when he will start to be taken seriously.
The technical language was expertly handled. Giant surface weather maps were brought in a regular intervals as new information came from the ships recording data in the Atlantic, and as the play went on the entrance of a new map became quite an event. The text was written in an almost ‘West Wing’ type fashion, with the characters using the meteorological jargon integrated into their fast-paced dialogue and assuming the audience will catch on, much as they do in Aaron Sorkin’s political TV drama. So much so that by the time we are awaiting a chart to determine whether the attack can go ahead on 6th June, when the image was strung up we knew immediately that Stagg was correct about the way the storms were acting. No exposition was needed, the audience looked up at the map and breathed a sigh of relief just as the actors did. The use of these visual images along with the dialogue taught the audience what they needed to know to be involved in the scene. That education of the material surrounding the subject matter is definitely something I want to learn from and take forward in my own direction.
Another thing that I loved about the production was the glass doors in the top corner of the set leading out on to a balcony. With a play so focused on the weather, this gateway to the outdoors allowed the creative team to represent the elements on stage. The light and length of the shadows peering around the corner showed the time of day, and when a storm was raging outside, the rain pelting against the glass. This really added to the realism and the naturalistic style of the play, making the world feel much more inhabited.
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Pressure’ and certainly found it interesting, although I felt the Haig was a bit reluctant to end the play – the final few scenes focusing on the three leads waiting for the invasion to occur felt a bit tagged on and I kept expecting it to end only to have the scene continue. I am not a fan of blackouts between scenes in general, and this didn’t do anything to persuade me otheriwse, simply because I could feel myself shifting and being taken out of the play for a few moments at the end of each section. Although this was counteracted with projections of timings and dates I felt a little that something more imaginative could have been employed to show the passing of a few hours.
This traditional play is definitely worth a watch: the business of the office and the subject-matter was fascinating, and I felt fully engaged with the story and the tension as the stakes rose towards the invasion. As Stagg himself said: “How can the weather ever be boring?”
Pressure plays at the Ambassadors Theatre until Saturday 1st September. Tickets available.