Apr 20 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     Energetic and intense

Hill Street Theatre: Wed 19 – Sat 22 April 2023
Review by Allan Wilson

David Haig’s Pressure, focusing on two British obsessions: the weather and World War Two, had its world première at the Lyceum in 2014 and is now revived by Arkle at the Hill Street Theatre until Saturday.

This is an energetic and intense revival from the Arkle Theatre Company, which sheds light on the lives of some of the unheralded characters whose work was key to the outcome of the War.

Steven Bradley Croall and Al Innes. Pic: Rob Shields.

It is early June, 1944, and Dalkeith-born meteorologist Dr James Stagg, played by Steven Bradley Croall, is under pressure. The Allied invasion of France is due to be launched on June 5th, but the limited weather forecast data on air pressure is confusing.

Stagg is convinced that a major storm, capable of sinking the landing craft vital to the invasion and leading to the deaths of many thousands of troops is about to strike, but his American colleague is equally certain that the weather will be fine.

Allied commander, General Eisenhower, is pressing Stagg for a decision on whether the invasion can go ahead. On top of that, Stagg’s wife is in hospital, facing a difficult labour due to high blood pressure.

intimate, almost claustrophobic setting

Director, Hannah Bradley Croall, has used the available space to create an intimate, almost claustrophobic setting that helps the audience feel involved while letting a cast of 12 make full use of the stage. The four main characters interact well with each other and are ably supported by the ensemble, some of whom were doubling up roles.

Gregor McElvogue and Alison Porter. Pic: Rob Shields.

Bradley Croall’s Stagg is a quiet man burdened and stressed by the weight of the advice he must give to Eisenhower, despite being convinced that his forecast is right. He has angry exchanges with his American counterpart, Colonel Krick, whose brash over-confidence is well portrayed by Al Innes.

Krick relies on comparisons with historic weather charts for his forecasts and refuses to accept Stagg’s evidence for the existence of the jet stream and its impact on weather. Eisenhower, played with authority by Gregor McElvogue, hopes that the two meteorologists will reach a compromise, but as time runs out has to choose between the insufferable and direct Scot and his trusted compatriot, with whom he has worked for many years.

Alison Porter’s engaging Lieutenant Kay Summersby helps to provide a bridge between Stagg and Eisenhower as the General’s driver and secretary. She also acts as his confidante and there are strong hints of a deeper relationship.

warmth and humour

The principals are well supported by the other members of the cast. Alexander Cook’s Flight Lieutenant Andrew Carter provides an excellent foil for Stagg throughout the play, while Zander Nisbet, Esther Gilvray and Kate Stephenson all give good performances as various members of admin and support staff.

Alison Porter (foreground) with Steven Bradley Croall and Zander Nisbet. Pic: Rob Shields.

Richard Spiers, John Lally and Rob Mackean portray Eisenhower’s senior staff with skill, but a special mention goes to Phil Barnes, who plays an earnest Sir Trafford Leigh Mallory, and brings warmth and humour to the role of a very chatty telephone installer.

Hannah Bradley Croall’s creative team have worked well together to create an authentic 1940s feel, with props sourced by Jane Purves, costumes by Hazel Eadie, music created by Dug Campbell and the all-important weather maps produced by Rob Shields. Craig Robertson’s sound and Rob Shields’ lighting worked particularly well together as the inevitable storm arrives.

It can be hard to build tension in a historical play where the final outcome is known from the start, but Haig handled this well by focusing on how the outcome was finally achieved.

However, there are other issues with Haig’s script as some key characters, including Summersby and Krick, are written as one-dimensional cliches, while he seemed very reluctant to finish the play, with the final fifteen minutes seeming superfluous.

Despite these reservations, Arkle Theatre have put together an excellent production that is engaging and informative throughout, with first class performances, particularly from the four principals.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes (including one interval).
Hill Street Theatre, 19 Hill Street EH2 3JP.
Wed 19 – Sat 22 April 2023.
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details:  Book here.

Arkle website:
Facebook: @Arkle Theatre Company
Twitter: @ArkleTheatre


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