REVIEW: Pressure, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, until June 28.

D-Day was delayed by a day – one short sentence from which the superlative David Haig has constructed the richest and most enthralling of thrillers.

Everything is in place for the biggest seaborne invasion the world had ever seen – everything except the weather on which everything, of course, depends. And in Southwick House, near Portsmouth, the Allied commanders are plotting its every gust.

As the storm approaches outside, so the storm explodes within as Dr James Stagg, Chief Meteorological Officer for the Allied Forces, clashes with General Eisenhower’s American celebrity weatherman of choice, Colonel Krick.

Where Krick relies on history to predict sunshine for a June 5 D-Day, Stagg – quite brilliantly played by Haig himself – predicts the kind of weather which will turn D-Day to disaster.

Stuck in the middle is Eisenhower, terrifically played by Malcolm Sinclair, a man faced with conflicting predictions as he decides the fate of thousands – a burden Sinclair convincingly portrays.

And this is the great strength of the play: cast, director John Dove and set designer Colin Richmond give us a huge sense of history being decided within these claustrophobic four walls.

Tim Beckmann’s Crick brings an angry complacency to the debate; Haig’s Stagg meets it with exasperation and instinct, humility and conviction. Deeply troubled, he knows deep down he is right – and Haig brings the sheer decency of the man thrillingly alive.

Laura Rogers gives a lovely performance as Eisenhower’s confidante, driver and maybe lover – an outwardly starchy woman whose humanity helps ease the way between all concerned. History is being made, but Haig shows us that it is vulnerable humans who are making it.

Of course, we all know the outcome, but Haig’s play brilliantly shows that it is history’s apparent footnotes which really decide its direction.

In the great back catalogue of Minerva triumphs, Pressure takes its place alongside Arturo Ui and Taking Sides – and there can be no higher praise than that.

Phil Hewitt