"Look on the bright side"
by Tim Mottershead for remotegoat on 31/05/18

‘Happy Days’ (1961) by Samuel Beckett, concerns Winnie (Maxine Peake) and her husband Willie (David Crellin). Winnie is stuck, buried up to the waist in a mound of earth, whilst Willie lives in a cave at the bottom of the mound, behind her. Their physical proximity allows communication, but not contact.

Winnie tends to babble about everyday things from her past, frequently repeating herself, with recourse to stock phrases. She often makes an inventory of the same few objects in what almost amounts to her survival bag: lipstick, mirror, medicine, toothbrush, etc. In contrast, taciturn Willie suns himself and looks over the paper, occasionally reading out the same few job vacancies. Each to their own, as they both wait for the inevitable bell to ring in ‘another happy day’.

If this doesn’t exactly sound like a blue print for a series of ‘happy days’, in fact, in a way, it is, for the pair make the best of it. Each in their own way tries to find something positive in their apparently futile situation, despite all appearances to the contrary, to make life worth living, for “what is one to do all day, day after day”. An alternative way of looking at this is that the idea of maintaining a routine in an ‘ordinary’ situation, maintains one’s sanity, yet can lead to complacency which deters one from taking remedial action. But there are so many ways and levels on which this play can be viewed.

Beckett’s surreal metaphorical abstraction affords the audience the opportunity to envision an almost endless variety of circumstances and comparisons; from a marriage literally stuck in a rut, to an apocalyptic last couple on earth scenario, in which the protagonists try to ‘carry on as normal’. As usual the handsome brochure provided added further food for thought in this direction, suggesting that the play plumbs greater depths than the more prevalent, contemporaneous ‘kitchen sink drama’ or 'angry young men’ managed.

Doesn’t sound like your cup of tea? Doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs? Think again. The play contained much humour, entertained, flowed and never dragged, thanks obviously to the spell-binding performances, but also to watchful eye of director Sarah Frankcom. Their efforts were aided in no small part to the telling design, lighting, and sound from Naomi Dawson, Jack Knowles, and Claire Windsor. The run continues until 23 June.

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