Head in the sand

Happy Days at Young Vic, London


Beckett’s tendency towards the absurd 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 those types otherwise, as Juliet Stevenson’s portrayal of 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 her husband, both of which prove to be equally lifeless companions. More and more sand can be seen tumbling down on her, as she tries desperately to get her husband to engage,

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 call up 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’s likely this two-act play is unlike anything you have seen before, and perhaps that is reason enough to go along. But it is Olivier-award winning Stevenson’s nuanced performance that’s the main attraction. Her talent for the comedic brings out the underlying irony – a refreshing contrast to what has the potential to be a heavy play.

It has been suggested that Happy Days was written for Beckett’s wife, who wanted him to write a ‘happy’ play. The result is ironic, as his play focuses on the determination of many women to make the most of a hopeless situation by finding the good in the little things. Perhaps it was a trait Beckett’s wife herself had.

By Leah Quinn

Happy Days plays at The Young Vic until March 8.





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