Review: Happy Days, Young Vic

“Perhaps some day the earth will yield and let me go, the pull is so great, yes, crack all round me and let me out”

The second show of the month with this title for me, but a completely different kettle of fish (although one can imagine the screams of existential angst that lie beneath the Fonz’s immaculately pristine quiff). I have no qualms in admitting that Samuel Beckett’s inimitable charms have long eluded me, I’ve never had that light-bulb moment in a theatre with one of his plays and being endlessly told that his work is amazing always has the reverse effect on me.

But I’m always up for the challenge, especially when it means the chance to see Juliet Stevenson on the stage again, and so Natalie Abrahami’s production of Happy Days for the Young Vic made it onto the calendar. I read the play at university but have never seen it onstage so I can’t compare it to any others, although given the strictness with which the Beckett estate guard the performance rights, I wonder how different they can actually be.     

First things first, no matter what one thinks of the show, it can’t be denied that it is a truly extraordinary, possibly career-best performance from Stevenson. Buried from the waist down for the first half in an almost gold-mine like setting (glitteringly designed by Vicki Mortimer) and then from the neck down after the interval, she manages to portray a huge vivacity from both the outpouring of thought and word typical of Beckett, but also from the most searching set of eyes which peer out unnervingly into the audience, connecting directly with us all and providing the listening ear that Winnie so desperately craves.

But despite the quality, David Beames as her near-silent husband is also strong, the cumulative effect just proved too wearing for me. The cacophonous klaxon ends up serving a purpose for half the audience as well as marking time for Winnie, jolting the attention back onto the stage but could I say that I took anything away from the writing about the human condition, that reflects the esteem in which so many others hold it, I cannot. 

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Photo: Johan Persson

Booking until 3rd March

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