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A CurtainUp London Review
by Lizzie Loveridge
Happy Days has been described as Beckett's most cheerful play. So here is a woman imprisoned by the environment who prattles away about the mundane and every so often reminds us what a happy day she is having. She gets on with brushing her teeth and putting on her hat as if she were getting ready to go out. I was told that this play is about the indomitable human spirit, how a woman of as few intellectual resources as Winnie appears to have, can still rise above her disastrous situation and find an optimism, a purpose.
She busies herself with the contents of her bag, a capacious Gladstone bag, one of them a revolver which she handles lovingly. She describes the minutiae of her family life and poignantly towards the end makes this comment on her marriage. To Willie, who has appeared in a top hat, morning suit and white gloves (not unlike Alice in Wonderland's White Rabbit) she recalls when he said to her, "I worship you. Will you be mine? Then nothing from that day forth, only titbits from Reynold's News." Willie has taken to reading from the Situations Vacant column in the newspaper. Just as you think things could not get any worse, in the second act, imprisoned up to her neck, she cannot console herself with the contents of her bag.
Miss Kendall speaks Winnie in a soft Irish brogue which emphasises the rhythm of the words. The last desolate look she gives is heart breaking, coming as it does on top of such determined ""looking on the bright side". True Beckett's words achieve a kind of lyricism all of their own although there were times when I wished Miss Kendall could have slowed her delivery somewhat so that I could appreciate the poetry. But it is a good performance with a gentle and mildly desperate, understated interpretation of emotion.
Sir Peter Hall has directed Happy Days before when Samuel Beckett was still alive and he describes in the programme some of his memories of the 1976 production at the National with Peggy Ashcroft in the role. People remember Hall's 1976 ending when Willie crawls towards the gun, maybe to shoot Winnie in an act of mercy. That didn't happen in this production.
The director's daughter, Lucy Hall's set is breathtaking but wrong headed. A huge spiral of dried earth like a snail shell coiled round itself, at its edges coils of electric blue ribbon sweeping off like the Millenium Bridge. The effect is that Winnie looks as if she is in a rabbit hole in a children's fantasy. Beckett gave very specific instructions on Winnie's physical environment, up to her waist in sand and these have been ignored here. The lighting behind the spiral forms an after image on your retina and everywhere you look there are these coils. Willie crawls partially round the set, inexplicably reaching no-one. Just what is the Vaseline for, that Winnie tells him to remember?
So a famously enigmatic play from the master for those who want to be theatrically stretched but which may leave others mystified.
For a review of another production of this play go here.
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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