Pressure (play)

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.

Official poster of the 2014 Lyceum production
Written byDavid Haig
Date premiered1 May 2014 (2014-05-01)
Place premieredRoyal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Setting1944, Operation Overlord

In 2018, the play was revived for a UK tour, and transferred to the West End's Ambassadors Theatre. The West End transfer marked the 74th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

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 ran from 31 May to 28 June 2014.[12] A typical performance runs two hours and 20 minutes, including one interval of 20 mins.[13]

In 2018 the original production was revived for a UK tour, in a partnership between the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre and the Touring Consortium Theatre Company.[14] The tour ran from 28 March 2018, until 28 April and visited Cambridge, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Guildford, Cheltenham, Bath, Richmond and London's Park Theatre.[15] Following completion of the tour the production transferred to the West End's Ambassadors Theatre, where it ran from 6 June 2018 until 1 September.[16] The West End transfer marks the 74th anniversary of the D-Day landings.[16]

Extracts from the play were performed at Portsmouth on 5 June 2019 for the Queen, President Trump and other world leaders, to help mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.


The play is set in 1944[4] at Southwick House, the headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force[17] in the 72-hour period leading up to the launch of Operation Overlord.[4] Group captain James Stagg is the chief meteorologist[18] who, on no more than educated guesswork and instinct, is advising Dwight D. Eisenhower that despite a prolonged heat wave, weather conditions will suddenly deteriorate sharply on D-Day, and that the colossal logistical task of landing 150,000 soldiers in occupied France should therefore be postponed.[19][20]

However, Stagg's assistant and American celebrity weatherman Irving P. Krick[21] forecasts another calm sunny day. Stagg knows the volatile nature of English weather and predicts severe storms, making it impossible to land troops successfully and establish the long-awaited second front.[22] Under the most intense pressure, both personal[23] and military, Stagg seeks to persuade Eisenhower his forecast of events is correct.[4][24]

Principal roles and original cast

Character Edinburgh performer[25] Chichester performer[26] 2018 UK Tour[14]
Group captain James Stagg David Haig
Young Naval Rating/Hamilton Scott Gilmour Robert Heard
Lieutenant Battersby / Captain Johns Anthony Bowers William Mannering
Commander Franklin / General "Tooey" Spaatz Gilly Gilchrist Mark Jax
Andrew Robert Jack Bert Seymour
Electrician / Admiral Bertram Ramsay Michael Mackenzie
Kay Summersby Laura Rogers
General Dwight D. Eisenhower Malcolm Sinclair
Colonel Irving P. Krick Tim Beckmann Philip Cairns
Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory Alister Cameron

Critical reception

Cambridge production

The diving press picked up on this production and looked at the play through the eyes of someone who know first hand just how important accurate forecasts are. Rosemary E Lunn observed in X-Ray Magazine "[27] "Ardent British divers understand that our weather is uniquely complex. We are aware how changeable and challenging UK coastal weather is - even in the summer. We can plan a dive to the enth degree and the weather may be kind. Or it will be less than kind."

"I've been fortunate enough to dive a landing craft off the English south coast. The best way to describe its shape to someone who has never seen one before, is that it closely resembles a square biscuit tin. This type of craft needs a flat sea and the forecast that Stagg gave was anything but a quiet sea. Above a force 5 and the ships would capsize resulting in as many as 70,000 - 80,000 men drowing. A catastrophic loss of life. A number of years later (August 2017) I dived the wrecks off Normandy. The dive trip I was on was blessed with some great weather. We had one day where it was a bit lumpy and we couldn't dive. At the time I didn't give it much thought, but after watching 'Pressure' it made me reconsider the weather conditions the troops endured to get to France."

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."[28]

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."[29] Josie Balfour in the 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."[30]

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."[31] 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 pace stating its "Tempestuous and highly charged in its opening scenes, but lingering away into domestic affairs."[32]


  1. "The weather forecast that changed D-Day". BBC News. 1 May 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  2. "Edinburgh and Chichester postpone new David Haig play". The Stage. 30 November 2012. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  3. "The Lyceum to host Ian Rankin's debut play as part of new season". STV. 30 April 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  4. "About Pressure". Royal Lyceum Theatre. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  5. "LYCEUM THEATRE, EDINBURGH 2013/14 SEASON" (PDF). Royal Lyceum Theatre. 30 April 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  6. "Ian Rankin working on first play for Royal Lyceum". The Scotsman. 1 May 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  7. "The weather was crucial to D-Day's success". ITV News. 6 June 2014. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  8. "David Haig weathering pressure of D-Day forecasting". The Scotsman. 28 April 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  9. "'Weather thriller' tells tale of unsung war hero". The Herald. 29 April 2014. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
  10. "Original Play PRESSURE by David Haig Set to Premiere". Broadway World. 8 April 2014. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
  11. "World Premiere of David Haig's 'Pressure' opens at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester on 31 May, 2014". The Arts Shelf. 8 April 2014. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  12. "Chichester reopens Festival Theatre with Rupert Everett in Amadeus, plus Gypsy and Guys and Dolls". Whats On Stage. 6 March 2014. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  13. "Run Time". Royal Lyceum Theatre. 1 May 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  14. "Pressure". Whats On Stage. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  15. "David Haig to star in UK tour of his wartime thriller Pressure". Whats On Stage. 7 November 2017. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  16. Alex Wood (2018-04-03). "David Haig's Pressure to transfer into the West End". Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  17. "Pressure, Minerva Theatre, Chichester". The News. 6 June 2014. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  18. "Lyceum aims for top Rankin with Dark Road". The Scotsman. 1 May 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  19. "After Ben Elton? King Lear, of course". The Telegraph. 24 July 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  20. "Ian Rankin turns his pen from Rebus to stage play". Herald Scotland. 30 April 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  21. "David Haig's new play creates a storm at the Lyceum!". Edinburgh Guide. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  22. "Actor David Haig on playing the Scots weatherman who saved 500,000 lives in World War II". Daily Record (Scotland). 28 April 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  23. "Pressure Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh". The Herald. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  24. "A gripping play about a man under almost intolerable stress". Financial Times. 11 May 2014. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  25. "The Cast of Pressure". Royal Lyceum Theatre. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  26. "Pressure The Company". Chichester Festival Theatre. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  27. "'Pressure' - A different view of the D-Day Landings". X-Ray Magazine. 7 February 2018.
  28. "Pressure review: a multifaceted metaphor". The Observer. 18 May 2014. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  29. "Theatre review: Pressure". The Scotsman. 10 May 2014. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  30. "Pressure Review Lyceum". Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  31. "Pressure at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh". The Times. 15 May 2014. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  32. "Pressure". The Stage. 9 May 2014. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
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