Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 20th October, 2019
David Haig’s play is set the weekend before D-Day – a date enshrined in history, but of course, at the time they didn’t know exactly when the Normandy invasion would take place. And that’s the crux of the plot. General Eisenhower is relying on weather forecasts to predict the best conditions for making his move and sending 350,000 men into danger. One expert is predicting fair weather, another says there’s a storm coming. But who is right? And which way will Eisenhower jump?
Martin Tedd’s Dr Stagg is a grumpy Scot, a Victor Meldrew of a man, but he knows what he’s talking about. His certainty of his own knowledge and experience contrasts with the uncertainty around his wife going into difficult labour with their second child. But Stagg is under lockdown at Southwick House and is powerless to help. Tedd is good at Stagg’s short temper but he stumbles sometimes with the specialist language, phrases that should trip off the tongue. His American counterpart, Colonel Krick is played with assurance by Robert Laird.
Alexandria Carr is marvellous as the only female character in the piece, Lieutenant Summersby – her accent matches her period hairdo, and she performs with efficiency, showing the human behind the British aloofness.
The mighty Colin Simmonds portrays Eisenhower with a blunt kind of charm, exuding power easily and bringing humour to the piece. As ever, Simmonds inhabits the character with utter credibility and nuance. It feels like a privilege to see him perform.
There is pleasing support from Griff Llewelyn-Cook as young Andrew, and from Crescent stalwarts Dave Hill and Brian Wilson in some of the smaller roles.
Director Karen Leadbetter keeps us engaged with all the jargon flying around by handling the highs and lows, the changing weather of human interactions, with an ear for when things should be loud and when quiet, and when silence is most powerful.
The simple set, in wartime greens, gives us a sense of time and place, and is enhanced by John Gray’s lighting – especially for off-stage action, like an aeroplane in trouble, for example. The room is dominated by the charts, huge maps with isobars swirling across them, and you marvel that the technology of the time was adequate for its purpose.
This is a solid production of a play that sheds light on an esoteric yet crucial part of the war effort. Haig has obviously researched his subject matter extensively and manages to tell the story without being overly didactic or preachy.