Pressure – Theatre Royal Bath

It’s the weekend before D-Day in 1944, and Dr James Stagg has been drafted in to a military base to advise General Eisenhower on the weather conditions for the landings. Unfortunately, Eisenhower’s own adviser, Krick, doesn’t agree with Stagg’s forecasts, and if Eisenhower decides to listen to Krick, Stagg fears that he could be putting the lives of thousands of men in danger.

A play based around a weather forecast doesn’t sound very exciting but this play successfully managed to maintain the tension, despite the audience having an idea of what the eventual outcome will be. It’s a relatively new play, first performed in 1914, and written by the actor David Haig, who also plays Stagg. It’s evident throughout that Haig has done thorough research while writing the play, and although for a few minutes in the first half I did briefly wonder whether it was just going to be discussions about jet streams for two hours, I was quickly proven wrong as the plot and characters began to develop.

The set was relatively simple, a large office space with maps being rolled up at the back of the room to show the latest forecasts. There were also balcony doors which were used effectively to convey the changing weather conditions, and the blackouts at night. Haig, as well as being a talented playwright, was excellent as Stagg, a little bossy and abrupt at times but also extremely sympathetic when he worries about his wife who is in labour. Malcolm Sinclair also gave a strong performance as Eisenhower, as did Laura Rogers as Kay Summersby, Eisenhower’s chauffeur.

It was great to learn about a little known true story, particularly in a well written pacy play.

 

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Racing Demon – Theatre Royal, Bath

Racing Demon is a play by David Hare about an inner London team of clergy. They include the Reverend Lionel Espy (David Haig), a traditional, likeable but slightly noncommittal priest who is having a crisis of faith, and whose job is under threat by the bishop of Southwark (Anthony Calf), Tony Ferris (Paapa Essiedu), a newly ordained and well-meaning priest with more evangelical ideas about faith and religion, and gay Harry Henderson (Ian Gelder).

The play had a good combination of humour and drama, and the performances by the three leads were strong and emotional at times. Although the play was written in 1990 many of its themes still resonated, such as how the church can stay relevant as society changes and develops.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead – Old Vic

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is not an easy play to summarise! Two minor characters from Hamlet question what they are doing, why they are there, and where they are going. Scenes from Hamlet are slotted in throughout, and in between their philosophising the title characters play coin tossing games and word games, while becoming increasingly aware of their own mortality, especially due to their encounters with a group of travelling players.

I’d been curious about this play for a while and I was not disappointed. It is witty, at times moving and very funny. The staging for this production was quite bare, with mostly just a curtain across the stage used for scene changes, or sometimes as a half curtain as a divide between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and the action of the story of Hamlet.

The performances were all strong. Daniel Radcliffe was bewildered and likeable as Rosencrantz, the quieter of the pair. At times I felt that he didn’t project his voice as well as the other actors – this is only a very small criticism as I didn’t miss anything he said, and it may just have been that he was meant to be the quieter character, or that he was struggling a little with his voice that day! Joshua McGuire was also very good as the livelier, bossy and more talkative Guildenstern. David Haig was excellent as The Player, the impresario of the travelling group. The comedic timing was perfect by all throughout.

I not only thoroughly enjoyed the production but the play itself. It’s very clever, especially as Tom Stoppard was so young when he wrote it. I look forward to seeing it again at some point, as I feel it’s a play where you notice something new each time you see it, but I think this production could be difficult to beat.