Review: Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, at the Young Vic

Juliet Stevenson as Winnie. Photo Johan Persson

Juliet Stevenson as Winnie. Photo Johan Persson

This is going to be less a review than any other. Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days – not to be confused with Happy Days the musical, currently on tour – is, to me, completely disarming. Part Rorschach test, part word porn, part the noises of one’s dying sanity, it’s hallucinatory as much as anything. It’s intoxicating, unknowable, almost sinful. It’s hard to know where my critical eye (as weak and easily seduced as it is) lost its way.

Winnie talks. She has nothing but talk. Willie is present but out of (her) sight. Do people exist when we don’t see them? Is our voice meaningful if no one hears it? Is death real if no one witnesses it?

Happy Days  is some times discussed as a triumph of resilience. But isn’t that too straight a reading for such unfathomable play? I was thinking lately that in many Shakespeare plays, the hero finds serenity after he has stopped struggling. And then he dies. (It’s almost always a “he”). In Happy Days, the struggle is relentless, a punishment in itself. What if you were in hell and you didn’t know it?

Juliet Stevenson gives a towering overwhelming performance. Most surprising of all it’s her constant movement. Some times real, some times imagined.  David Beames as Willie is the very incarnation of menacing absence.

And then it’s the end. It’s the first – and most likely last – time I am putting a SPOILER WARNING for the curtain call. Because nothing happens. Winnie is buried to her neck in sand, Willie is face down to the ground, the play finishes and nothing happens. The applause came and went, with some people giving a standing ovation, and then we started filing out and Juliet Stevenson was still there, only her head visible, looking at us leaving.

2 responses to “Review: Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, at the Young Vic

  1. Ahh this play really hurt my head (and not because of that bloody bell/screeching sound) the double meaning, metaphors .. Arghhhh
    Is she in some sort of purgatory? And doesn’t know it ..Poor dear!

    I should have read up on this play before (something I do after, not before so not to spoil it, if it’s something I’ve never seen/know about). I know Samual Beckett plays are not easy but I thought I’d go in cold…

    Stephenson is brill .. Agree the staying in character when the play has finished while everyone is clapping was odd and strange, but Happy Days is not a “normal” play

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