Samuel Beckett is, in my view, an actor’s playwright; surviving the grueling demands of playing a character born of Beckett’s mind, must be a badge of honour for an actor. But Beckett also demands a great deal from his audience both emotionally and intellectually: even when performed with the talent of a gifted actress like Juliet Stevenson, it is not always easy-watching.
The Young Vic is currently showing Beckett’s Happy Days in which Juliet Stevenson gives a truly energetic and captivating performance as Winnie. The action opens on the jagged and raw set designed by Vicki Mortimer, a craggy cliff-side showing the geological strata of the over-hanging rocks: the visual realism of the topography in sharp contrast with the surreal installation of its protagonist. Winnie is rooted to the foot of the cliff, waste-deep in sand.
Winnie is joined, in body if not in spirit, by her semi-mute husband Willie (a grueling role for its lack of lines and stage direction, played with patience by David Beames) who exists, worm-like in a hole six feet from Winnie. How the couple have come to be in this predicament is never explained and never apparently queried by Winnie. Winnie both infantilises Willie and teases him with sexual innuendo, with all but no reciprocation. She carries the play with her lively monologue, her vain battle to stay both presentable and cheerful, grating away at her sanity.
As the grim (sur)reality of her entrapment increases with the second act, in which Winnie is now buried to her neck, her bird-like chirruping veers more frequently towards hysteria. Does this play reflect the human condition, trapped and lonely, our utterances, prayers and protestations mere barks at the moon? I sincerely hope not, but Beckett certainly sends my thoughts in that direction.
Happy Days is in Theatres until 8th March 2014, to find out more click here: http://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/happy-days
Written By Camilla Norton