Everyone who saw the preview showing of Pressure at The Royal Lyceum Theatre on Saturday 3rd May knew that it was good. Very good. Exceptionally good.
No doubt everyone who acted in the show knew from the audience reaction that it was very good too. We were enthralled and entertained from the get-go. Palpably so.
But it has only just dawned on me why it is so very good. Two reasons.
One: Passion is sexy.
Passion is sexy and infectious. Passion for an unlikely subject has the added dimension of being surprisingly sexy, and is all the sexier for it.
In this case it is Group Captain James Stagg’s passion for the weather that is sexy. He makes that most British and most boring of subjects feel intense, dramatic and vital. Stagg has the unenviable task of providing long range weather forecasts to General Eisenhower and his staff in the run up to the Normandy landings in 1944, using the limited data available at the time. The weather was obviously critical to the invasion and the wrong call could have cost thousands of additional lives.
Played by David Haig, who also wrote the script, Stagg is the meteorology equivalent of the brilliant maths teacher who makes the subject come alive for their class. He conveys a sense of wonder in the weather, and a fervour for scientific method over hunch, in the most testing, most pressurised of environments.
Much of the dialogue in the play pertains to a giant weather map at the back of the stage. The map is changed several times over 48 hours (2 acts) as tensions mount and stakes are raised. And the joy of this show is that, through Stagg’s understated charisma, a meteorological chart comes alive as the centerpiece for some utterly gripping storytelling.
Two: Back stories are cool.
Some people mistakenly think that cat pictures are what the Internet is for. Fools! The Internet is about back stories. Things you didn’t know about things you’re interested in. When back stories are done well, a little knowledge becomes a delightful thing.
Pressure is a delightful thing.
Pressure is a back story done extremely well.
One of the friends with whom I saw the show remarked that the story was compelling despite the fact that you knew what was going to happen.
On reflection I disagree. We didn’t know what was going to happen. That is the beauty of back stories. Knowing the outcome is not the same as knowing what happens.
We all now the outcome of the film Downfall. We know that Hitler and Eva Braun will take their own lives. But that is not the point of the film. The film is about what happened during the final days in the bunker, back stories that we didn’t know, and that is what makes the film so engrossing.
The main back story in Pressure is about the most important weather forecast in modern history.
But there are several human back stories to the back story that add richness and depth to this wonderful play. Say no more for fear of spoiling it for you. Suffice to say that the back story back stories are passionate in their own right.
And that is sexy.