Michael Fish will forever be remembered for one forecast. In 1987, the former weatherman assured the nation not to worry; there definitely wasn’t a hurricane on the way. Unfortunately, and not just for him, only a few hours later the south coast was battered by the biggest storm in three decades.
He was subsequently monstered in the press and forced into hiding.
Imagine, then, the stakes in making a forecast on which the fortunes of the Second World War, and hundreds of thousands of lives, could turn. That’s the premise of this fine play both written and starring David Haig.
It’s June 1944. The wheels of war are rolling and the allied forces are set for the largest seaborne invasion in history. Months of meticulous planning will culminate in a few days when conditions – including the moon and tides – will be just right.
But the launch is still not a certainty. For Eisenhower to give the go ahead he needs to know the weather won’t destroy their chances.
Haig is first-class as gloomy Scottish meteorologist RAF Captain James Stagg, who insists that the indicators point to an operation-halting storm. Brusque, cautious and consumed by the seriousness of his subject, he is the polar opposite of his American counterpart. Irving P Krick (the equally excellent Philip Cairns) usually forecasts for film shoots in Hollywood and is as unflinching in his certainty of fair skies as he is of his own importance.
Cue an engrossing clash of wills and convictions as maps are unfurled and charts and numbers pored over. The tension is palpable and expertly maintained throughout, given the considerable jargon in the increasingly impassioned arguments.
There’s real wit and warmth as well. Stagg’s wife has gone into labour, and with outward communications barred, he can only worry about her condition. This personal side reveals a vastly different man from the charmless professional at the outset. And you can’t help but be moved when, in a vividly acted scene, he is overtaken by his anxiety and breaks down uncontrollably.
Haig has obviously done his research, and then smartly played with the facts for full dramatic effect. You wouldn’t think a story about predicting the weather could play like a thriller, but it does.
As excellent as Haig is, though, the performances that really carry the day are those of Malcolm Sinclair as Ike, and Laura Rogers as his personal aide Kate Summersby. Sinclair commands the room with his booming presence, but also shows us the General’s more moderate and mindful side. And Rogers is the backbone of the piece. Her brilliantly practical and resourceful lieutenant handles the strains borne by all others, portioning off advice and support as it’s needed.
It’s a rip-roaring evening’s entertainment as the pressure of making sure they come to the right decision takes its toll on all involved. You only have to ask poor Michael Fish what happens when you get it wrong.
Pressure is at London’s Park Theatre until 28 April and transfers to the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End for a limited run from 6 June to 1 September