May 9 2014 | By More

★★★★☆  Atmospheric Pressure

Royal Lyceum Theatre Thurs 1 – Saturday 24 May 2014

Involving, emotional and well-crafted, David Haig’s new play about the background to D-Day provides a successful finale to the current Lyceum season.

Laura Rogers as Kay Summersby and David Haig as Group Captain Dr. James Stagg. Photo © Drew Farrell

Laura Rogers and David Haig. Photo © Drew Farrell

James Stagg, played by Haig himself, is responsible for advising General Eisenhower on the weather forecast for the invasion of Normandy, but he is convinced that a storm on the planned date of 5 June will cost many lives. American forecaster Irving P. Krick, meanwhile, is equally sure that the weather will be fine.

There is something very clever about this idea – we all know what will happen on D-Day, but very few of us know what went on beforehand. The opposition between dour Scotsman Stagg and showbiz American Krick is tailor-made for drama. Their methods provide another contrast – Stagg believes in new scientific methods, while Krick swears by ‘analogues’ – essentially, the use of past weather maps to predict future patterns.

Since the drama hinges on a weather forecast, it is important that the discussion of meteorology captivates the audience. Haig has been very successful in this both as writer and actor, and the arguments over the jet stream and high pressure over the Azores take on an unexpectedly thrilling quality. The frequency and level of complexity of jargon seems about right too, leaving you almost believing you understand what phrases like ‘the storm has occluded above the triple point’ actually mean. The standard of writing is high, and there is gratifyingly little reliance on clichés of war stories.

It may be as a result of immersing himself in the man while researching the play, but Haig manages to inhabit the character of Stagg completely, and any misgivings he may have had about playing a Dalkeith man in Edinburgh seem to have been unfounded.

“A performance of rare integrity and emotional depth”

The terse, serious figure apparently lacking social graces that he presents is not the archetypal hero of a war story, but the drama is all the better for it. This is a performance of rare integrity and emotional depth, with his struggles to reconcile his scientific inclinations and personal feelings with the responsibility for the lives of so many men clearly evident.

Malcolm Sinclair-General Dwight D 'Ike' Eisenhower; Robert Jack - Flight Lieutenant Andrew Carter; David Haig-Dr. James Stagg. Photo © Drew Farrell

Malcolm Sinclair, Robert Jack and David Haig. Photo © Drew Farrell

There is a similar struggle going on within the character of Eisenhower’s chauffeur, confidante and (possibly) lover Kay Summersby. Her own ambiguous emotions – a successful invasion will spell ‘the beginning of the end’ for their relationship as well as the war – is excellently portrayed by Laura Rogers in a performance which mixes the steely and the fragile.

The play is perhaps less successful when it strays furthest away from these two characters and tries to make wider, more philosophical points. This contributes to a slight slackening of tension in the second half of the play, when it lacks the tension of those stirring meteorological debates. Malcolm Sinclair is entirely credible as Eisenhower and shines when sparring with Haig, but his musings on responsibility lack the emotional resonance Haig and Rogers bring to their parts.

There are several smaller parts that are not as fully fleshed out as they might be, but praise must go to Tim Beckmann’s oleaginous snake-oil salesman Krick, and to Michael Mackenzie who brings a gleam to two contrasting roles.

John Dove’s direction contributes hugely to what is a carefully-paced and tense atmosphere, as do Tim Mitchell’s lighting and Philip Pinsky’s sound and Andrzej Goulding’s video design. Colin Richmond’s set is almost perfect, especially when dominated by the huge weather maps that provide the story’s impetus.

As must usually be the case with dramatisations, the story seems on reflection to be a little simplified and truncated, while it is entirely possible that some of those there may have recollected events differently. However, it seems clear that most of the play is factually true. Haig’s central performance ensures it is also true emotionally, and it all makes for an extremely satisfying evening.

Running time 2 hrs 30 mins including interval
Run ends Sat 24 May
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9AX
Tues – Sats at 7.45 pm; Weds & Saturdays 2.30 pm also.
Tickets from

The script is available to buy at the Lyceum for £5.

If you are unable to get to the theatre to buy a copy, click on the link above to purchase the script from Amazon.

Pressure on tour:

Thurs 8 – Sat 24 May Edinburgh
Royal Lycuem Theatre
0131 248 4848 Book online
31 May – 28 June Chichester
Festival Theatre
01243 781312 Book online


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  1. Sunshine on Tollcross : All Edinburgh | Sep 3 2017
  1. Emily says:

    I thought it was excellent. My favourite of the Lyceum season.


    In the not-so-recent production of Pressure, performed by the internationally celebrated David Haig we noticed a practical inconsistency between the script set list and the performances themselves. In particular a piano was mentioned multiple times but for some unknown reason it was excluded from the production starring David.