Review | ‘Pressure’ starring Kevin Doyle is an engrossing story and a good old-fashioned play


Review | ‘Pressure’ starring Kevin Doyle is an engrossing story and a good old-fashioned play


By David Haig, directed by John Dove and Josh Roche. Until March 5 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W. or 1-800-461-3333

My father would have loved this show. A U.S. Navy vet and a man of science, one of his favourite pastimes was checking weather reports against the realities of the climate and muttering judgmentally under his breath when the weatherman was wrong.

He was also a traditionalist and liked his stories neatly well told and ideally based on historical events.

“Pressure” by David Haig hits nearly all of these points. It’s an engrossing story based on real events in which the weather literally shaped human history. The action takes place in early June 1944 at the command centre of the Allied forces on the south coast of England, as they make the final plans for D-Day.

Two meteorological experts, Dr. James Stagg (Kevin Doyle) and Colonel Irving P. Krick (Philip Cairns), are brought in to advise General Eisenhower (Malcolm Sinclair) about the exact timing of the landings.

Neatly well told stories require a clear conflict and this one has it in the Stagg-Krick relationship. Stagg, an abrupt Scot, is continually gathering current data and comes to believe that the weather on the planned date of the invasion — Monday, June 5 — will be terrible. Krick, a volatile Yank, looks to past patterns and predicts that weather on the Monday will be just fine.

This is a smart setup for high-stakes stage drama: the macrocosmic implications of what’s happening are huge and it all comes down to the way in which fallible humans deal with the titular pressure.

Haig also includes an engaging B-plot around English servicewomen Kay Summersby (Laura Rogers), leaning into historical rumours that she had an intimate relationship with Eisenhower as well as being his driver.

While Summersby as the play’s lone speaking female character has all kinds of stereotypically feminine functions piled on her — she provides emotional succour and keeps the hotheaded men on task — I enjoyed Rogers’s poised, quietly powerful playing of the role and the chemistry she shares with Sinclair’s bluff, likeable Eisenhower.

Actor-turned-playwright Haig (he originated the role of Stagg) over-eggs the pudding by adding in further drama around Stagg’s family life and not trusting the audience to fill in the end of the story themselves. There’s one scene too many in the first act and multiple false endings in the second — because we all know the outcome, having it affirmed in scenes after the invasion is unnecessary and tips the play into sentimentality. (That’s my expert analysis. My dad would have just said, “It’s a half an hour too long.”)

The production looks just right. Colin Richmond’s set of a huge, somewhat grungy room fills up the big stage of the Royal Alexandra Theatre, and Tim Mitchell’s lighting complements the script in locating the action in space and time. Frequently the characters open up French doors onto a balcony to let midsummer light flood in, and the precise, almost automatonlike way in which they turn indoor lights on only when the French doors are closed helps deliver the wartime mood and setting. Richmond’s costumes — nearly all uniforms — are effective and well researched down to Eisenhower’s trademark cropped “Ike” jacket.

Folks who are not history buffs nor weather nerds will likely be drawn to the production thanks to the star presence of Doyle, best known as the long-suffering butler/valet Mr. Molesley in “Downton Abbey.” This character is very different, as decisive and clipped as Molesley is soft-spoken and goofy, and Doyle’s excellent in the role, though his Scottish accent seemed sometimes to wobble.

Despite its overlength, the production, co-directed by John Dove and Josh Roche, caught my attention from the beginning and held it pretty much throughout. I wouldn’t have believed that so much dramatic tension could be built into the unscrolling of weather maps, but I found myself holding my breath every time a new one was introduced.

It’s an enjoyable afternoon or evening’s entertainment that’s likely to please audience members who like a good old-fashioned play.

I only wish I could have brought my dad.


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Credit: Review | ‘Pressure’ starring Kevin Doyle is an engrossing story and a good old-fashioned play