Published in the Irish World Newspaper February 26th 2014
Beckett’s tendency to lean towards the absurd in his plays does not always sit too comfortably with people. His exaggerated characters who rarely finish a sentence, let alone a singular thought, can awaken frustration and confusion in those who prefer a more narrative performance.
Happy Days directed by Natalie Abrahami at The Young Vic may well persuade certain sceptics otherwise as Juliet Stevenson’s portrayal of the lead character Winnie is a classic example of stage acting at its best.
The play takes place in a baron landscape, filled only with rock and sand. Winnie is submerged up to the waist in sand and evidently unable to escape. She has few possessions, one being her handbag and the other being her husband, both of which prove to be equally lifeless companions. Winnie starts and ends her day to the sound of a hugely unsettled bell. Although her situation is bleak, Winnie tries to make the most of the days and often sighs and exclaims “Oh it is another heavenly day”.
Although Winnie tries frantically to recall happy memories, most of which she had forgotten, and make the most of the mundane items she has left, you constantly get the feeling her fate is sealed and only tragedy can befall her.
It is quite likely this two act play is unlike any you may have encountered before, and perhaps that is enough of a reason to go along. However it is truly Olivier-award winning Stevenson’s skillful portrayal of such an absurd and tragic character that must be admired. More and more sand could be seen tumbling down on Winnie as she tired desperately to get her husband to engage, Stevenson’s talent for comedic acting brings out the underlying irony which is quite refreshing in what has the potential to be a heavy play.
It once suggested that this play was written for Beckett’s wife who wanted him to write a happy play. The result of which is quite ironic still as it focuses on the determination of many women to make the most of a hopeless situation by finding the good in the little things, a trait perhaps which Beckett’s wife might have had.
Happy Days plasy at The Young Vic until March 8th.