Tuesday, 29 April 2014

David Haig - Pressure

If it wasn't for a plumber's son from Dalkeith, the result of the
Second World War may have turned out very differently indeed. British
air-force meteorologist Group Captain James Stagg may not be as widely
known as many war heroes, but without his advice to then supreme
commander of allied forces in Europe, General Dwight D Eisenhower, on
what date to strike, the D Day landings in Normandy could have been a
disaster.

The story of Stagg, Eisenhower and how Stagg's forecast helped carve
out history form the backbone of Pressure, a brand new play by actor
and writer David Haig, which receives its world premiere at the Royal
Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh this week before transferring to
Chichester. With Haig also taking on the lead role of Stagg, the
little-known story has clearly become a labour of love for its author
and star.

“It's a story that is very seldom told,” says Haig, “but about a
subject that everybody knows quite a lot about. James Stagg is an
unsung hero, and he's a Scots hero. The essence of the story is that
Stagg persuaded Eisenhower to delay the attack because of the appalling
weather, because he instinctively understood British weather. The
American weather-men, led by Irving P Crick, who was the first
celebrity weather-man, thought it was going to be a glorious day, and
if Stagg hadn't got it right, that would've cost 70 to 80,000 lives.”

In Pressure, the action is compressed into one room in Portsmouth,
where Stagg, Eisenhower and Eisenhower's lover and confidante Kay
Summersby are holed up during a four-day count-down to D Day.

“Each of these three protagonists become inter-dependent in a very
interesting way,” says Haig. “They help each other through this
decision during the countdown, and I think it's safe to say that the
name of the play is the most accurate that I've ever come up with. They
had 350,000 lives at stake, and everything was in place except the
weather. If this hadn't come off, the war would have been lengthened
for at least another year.”

As an actor, Haig has been seen in Four Weddings and A Funeral, The
Thick of It, and more recently in the remake of political sit-com, Yes,
Prime Minister. Onstage, Haig has appeared frequently on the West End
and at Chichester Festival Theatre, where he worked with director of
Pressure, John Dove. Haig recently won an Olivier award for playing the
title role in Alan Bennett's play, The Madness of George III, and most
recently played King Lear at the Theatre Royal in Bath. Prior to
Pressure, Haig combined his two jobs in My Boy Jack, a play about
Rudyard Kipling's relationship with his son.

“My Boy Jack was easier to do,” says Haig, “because the character
reminded me of my father, so it was quite a personal journey. With
Pressure I was writing from quite a distance, because I had no personal
relationship with the characters involved, so it took quite a while for
John to persuade me to do it. Then I thought, this great, because so
often I'm either cast comedically, or as characters with this huge
burning energy that goes all over the place, like Lear and King George.
James Stagg has a huge energy as well in his love of weather, but he's
all restraint, so it's been good to find somewhere to channel the
energy, but it's very different.”

In previous readings of the story, Stagg has been little more than a
bit-part player. This was certainly the case in the 1962 film, The
Longest Day, which featured the likes of John Wayne, Sean Connery,
Kenneth More and Henry Fonda as part of its all-star cast. Stagg was
played by English actor Patrick Barr.

“It's astonishing that Stagg's role in all this hasn't been picked up
more than it has,” says Haig. “There's lots of research you can do
about it. It's all there. It's just that nobody has chosen to put Stagg
at the story's centre.”

It is the weather, however, that shapes things.

“The weather is the play's fourth main character,” says Haig. “If I had
to define it, I would say it's a thriller about the weather.”

Pressure, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, May 1-24.
www.lyceum.org.uk

The Herald, April 29th 2014

ends

No comments: