Published in the Guardian Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (and Chichester Festival Theatre) Three stars
WE'RE watching an action-adventure yarn. At stake is the very foundation of western civilisation. Time is running out and only one man can save the world. Except the hero is not Jack Bauer, running through the streets of London in 24: Live Another Day, but a portly blue-collar worker scribbling down numbers at a desk. More unlikely still, he is a weatherman.
His name is Group Captain Dr James Stagg, a studious meteorologist from Midlothian, and he has been given the weekend to come up with a forecast for Monday 5 June 1944, the intended date of the D-Daylandings. Getting it wrong will imperil the lives of 156,000 troops and secure Hitler's victory in Europe. Getting it right will change the course of history.
It sounds as improbable as Met Office: The Musical, or The Tragedy of Michael Fish, but the playwright David Haig, who also plays Stagg with an air of brusque preoccupation, manages to make the stuff of westerly flows, barographs and geostrophic currents into a highly watchable single-set drama.
He finds an antagonist in the form of Irving P Crick (Tim Beckmann), a US weatherman with a feeble grasp of the jet stream, and works in that staple of disaster movies, a heavily pregnant wife with, yes, high blood pressure. He even ratchets up the tension with the analogue equivalent of Chloe O'Brian patching the schematics to Bauer's PDA, when Stagg's team receive a welter of bewildering scientific data over the phone.
It's a straight bio-drama with no metaphor, moral or message beyond the facts of the true-life story, but thanks to the director John Dove's lucid production (en route to Chichester), it has a crowd-pleasing pace. And it's the only time you'll hear an audience suppress a cheer at a change in the onstage weather.