It’s a fascinating story – one which I, for one, had not been familiar with before seeing this play.
Written by and starring well known TV and film actor David Haig (Four Weddings and a Funeral, In the Thick of It), it tells the story of the Dalkeith born Scot, James Stagg, who headed a team of meteorologists charged with the forecasting of the weather conditions for the launch of the Allied Forces’ D Day offensive in June 1944. The lives of thousands of Allied troops depended on the accuracy of this forecast, 350 thousand troops to be exact. Set over the course of one weekend in one dingy room in Southwick House in Portsmouth, the HQ of supreme commander of the Allied Forces Dwight Eisenhower, Stagg and his team worked tirelessly and meticulously on their task.
It is not all plain sailing though, with tension and dissent mounting as the American weathermen forecast a glorious day, whereas Stagg predicts storms. It is a clash of two very different cultures – the US represented by the brash and self-confident Irving Krick and the buttoned up Brit, Stagg. It is also a clash of methodology – the Americans rely on predictions based on past weather patterns, the Brits use detailed readings of actual movements in air pressure and the Jetstream. The ramifications of delaying the offensive are huge but the risks of embarking in bad weather too great. Who will prevail? Eisenhower must decide.
Haig does a great job in his portrayal of Stagg and he captures well the internal struggles of the man – unable to express his emotions, he practically implodes on stage at a key moment in the drama. He apparently spent six months working on his Scottish accent and thank goodness it is convincing. The other key players: Malcolm Sinclair as Eisenhower and Laura Rogers as Kay Summersby, Ike’s driver and reputedly also his lover, are also convincing in their roles despite a few wobbles in Sinclair’s American accent. The small cast work well together, recreating the atmosphere of tension and highly charged emotions of that hugely important time which shaped the future course of the war.
It crossed my mind a few times that this would make a really good TV drama – it would allow more room to develop the story and show more aspects in detail. However what we have is enthralling – it is tightly focused and we feel caught up in the drama.
As well as being an entertaining evening, you will also come away from the theatre knowing a little bit more about the history of the Second World War and a lot more about weather forecasting. Wartime dramas and films continue to fascinate and interest us and Haig’s play is a fine addition to the collection. Directed by John Dove, this is a co-production with Chichester Festival Theatre and will go on to perform there after its Edinburgh run.