Happy Days (MTC) – theatre review

Absurdist and existential, Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days is a play strictly for selective tastes. That is not to overlook Judith Lucy’s stellar performance in it, rather it reflects my opinion that it will be admired by some and frustrate others. It is about the passing of time and the impact it has on us as we head towards the end of our lives.

Photos by Pia Johnson

In Act I, Winnie (Lucy) is buried up to her waist in a rocky mound in the burning sun, only able to carefully move from side to side. Within arms’ reach is a bag containing essentials such as a toothbrush and toothpaste, a small bottle of tonic … and a gun. Winnie is unable to see her henpecked, taciturn husband Willie (Hayden Spencer), whom she incessantly addresses. In turn, he only occasionally responds to her overtures. Still, she has a daily routine and is largely optimistic, celebrating each happy day. By Act II though, when she is buried up to her head, Winnie is far less cheery. Time is catching up with her.

Lucy looks totally at home and at ease in what is a largely solitary role, for relatively little is asked of Willie. She makes good use of pause and inflection. She is highly expressive, reflecting differing temperaments with facial movement. With the focus squarely on her, she doesn’t miss a beat, impressing with a heartfelt showing. In fact, Happy Days provides a good opportunity to see Lucy at the top of her game. Spencer’s is, arguably, even more of an eclectic role, which he handles well.

The play – considered a masterful work (the Independent in Britain called Happy Days one of the 40 best plays of all time) – is clearly open to personal interpretation. Written more than 60 years ago, Beckett didn’t attempt to provide an explanation for what goes down. It has a lot to say if you are prepared to think about it and reflect on how the playwright reflects on life’s journey and link it back your own experiences. Still, I yearned for more context in what felt like a long sit, despite a running time of only 95 minutes.

The large and evocative set makes a strong statement about isolation and imprisonment, while the costuming is suitably bold. The set and costume designer is Eugyeene Teh. If your taste is more towards the obscure, Happy Days is likely to hit the mark. It remains a challenging piece, as I dare say was always Beckett’s intent. Directed by Petra Kalive, it is playing at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until 10th June, 2023.

Alex First

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1 thought on “Happy Days (MTC) – theatre review

  1. The Happy Days play is awful and full of disconnected, esoteric, gobble-goop, an hour and 40 mins I’ll never get back…..go back to comedy Judith

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