It’s 70 years to the day since Eisenhower launched Operation Overlord and the D-Day Landings altered the course of history.
What is less known is that Ike pushed back the date of the operation by 24 hours on the say-so of a Scots weatherman whose crucial forecast decided the outcome of World War Two.
Pressure, which had its première on the Minerva stage at Chichester Festival Theatre last night comes from the pen of actor and writer David Haig.
It’s the true story of Group Captain Dr James Stagg who faced storms on all fronts as he tried to persuade the Allied High Command to stall D-Day.
Who’d have thought a story about barometric pressure and isobars could be so thrilling?
It is a typically passionate, intense and powerful performance by Haig as Stagg, who has taken a little known story about a meteorologist and turned it into a compelling war drama.
It’s June 2, 1944 and Eisenhower is all set to send 350,000 men to France three days later but he needs confirmation that the weather will be favourable.
The Americans produce their top forecaster, Colonel Irving Krick (Tim Beckmann) while the Met Office sends along Stagg, a profoundly committed and pedantic weatherman.
The two men immediately clash, coming up with wildly different predictions. Outside the weather is a typical “Flaming June” and Krick expects it to stay that way.
“Nothing is predictable about the British weather,” declared Stagg. “That’s why we love talking about it!”
Despite flashes of indecision Stagg persuades the top brass to delay and the rest, as they say, is history.
Domestically, while Stagg struggles to make sense of the jetstream, his wife (unseen) sees her own pressure build. Almost full term her blood pressure shoots up threatening her and her unborn child.
The situation reduces Stagg to tears.
The dialogue is occasionally heavy on the weather front but with welcome outbreaks of wit.
As Overlord gets under way Stagg cracks open the Scotch and he and sports-mad Ike thrash out the nuances between American Football and rugby union.
The unflappable Kay Summersby (Laura Rogers), Ike’s driver and possibly lover, later bonds with the infuriating Stagg over the single-malt.
“I always thought weather men were supposed to be a bit boring” she teases.
“There’s nothing boring about the weather,” declares the Scot.
Malcolm Sinclair makes a commanding Eisenhower. Perhaps the accent slips now and then but there’s genuine emotion and respect when he raises a glass to the men heading to the Normandy beaches.
Haig is simply superb – as he always is. Stagg’s momentary breakdown – caused by overwork, stress and the huge responsibility he faces – is shocking and heartbreaking to watch.
And, as a writer, the weather isn’t the most exciting of subjects to tackle.
Director John Dove keeps the pressure at boiling point throughout with extras dashing in to give weather updates, a video countdown reminding us of the urgency and a series of fierce rows between the two weathermen and their superiors.
There’s even a chap who cops it when his plane crashes outside Allied Command. The sense of peril is in every moment.
Rogers delivers a cracking turn as Summersby, one of those immensely capable wartime gals who got her hands dirty changing spark plugs while still looking sexy in second hand overalls.