Happy Days

Samuel Beckett

Arts Theatre

(2003)

Review by Philip Fisher

Sir Peter Hall's new vision of Happy Days is distinguished by the very strong playing of Felicity Kendal as the Irish-accented Winnie. The pair have often worked together but with Miss Kendal in stark focus, in an almost solo effort, they are at the top of their games.

Winnie starts this seemingly post-apocalyptic experience, buried to her waist in mud but very chirpy. Her concerns are about everyday things including her symbolically eternal bag and its contents; but also her much loved and needed husband, the mole-like Willie, played by Col Farrell.

Despite being trapped, Winnie enjoys her Happy Days like a little girl playing with her toys on a rainy day. The fact that the world has given up on her and her suffering from deafening bells does not significantly diminish her spirits, although it does persuade her to give up religion.

After the interval, the short second act shows Winnie fading, up to her neck in the mire but still cheerful. This is where Kendal excels with only her face and eyes to supplement her still cheerful speech. She holds the attention even when her words are impenetrable.

Beckett always comes with a health warning for those who cannot take his sometimes apparently meaningless streams of consciousness. For those willing to open up their minds to Happy Days, the reward is a memorable performance in a wonderful labyrinthine set designed by Lucy Hall. Given time, Beckett also creeps into odd parts of the brain giving strange illuminations of the human experience.