Celebrating 60 years of Samuel Beckett’s much-acclaimed play, this special revival of ‘Happy Days’ has Lisa Dwan take on its titular role of Winnie, a woman buried to her waist in sand as she goes about her daily routine, often remarking to herself that indeed, “this is a happy day”. Directed by Trevor Nunn and designed by Robert Jones, this production is a stark reminder of the drudgery and futility of the domestic lives we live, caught in a never-ending cycle of repetition and relief as we seek refuge from the same relationships that drive us to the edge. The two-act structure reinforces the central theme of passage of time and how Winnie, through her slow and inexplicable sinking into the sand, is unable to escape the cruelty and disappointment of her perfect life, especially her marriage to her husband Willie who mostly remains hidden out of sight and offers little response to Winnie’s frequent quips. Touching upon questions of unhappy relationships, grief, mortality and the mundaneness of one’s existence, this play, like Beckett’s other writing, leaves you with questions that come to you long after the curtains have gone down.
Lisa Dwan’s Winnie is a haunting portrayal of a middle-aged woman trapped in the viciousness of her routine, her only respite being items from her handbag and reassurances from her untalkative husband, both of which offer little to elevate her peculiar circumstances. Dwan has an endearing presence from the very start, crafting a voice of self-conscious enthusiasm and flickering optimism that is successful in highlighting the character’s constantly fluctuating emotional state. However it’s in the second act that Dwan captures your heart completely, with Winnie buried up to her neck in sand, almost at the brink of complete ruin whilst still maintaining the cheery optimism that one has on a ‘happy day’. However, there is a missing humorous cheer in her tone that’s come to characterise many of Beckett’s characters, which made it difficult for the audience to feel true sympathy for her situation.
The direction by Nunn. complemented by Tim Mitchell’s light design and Johnny Edwards’ sound design, offers a unique perspective to the audience, highlighting some of the more subtle themes of the text through conscious staging choices, such as the distance between Winnie and Willie, both real and emotional, which could not be salvaged by voice or movement. The experience does feel a little static however, exacerbated both by the text’s endless stream of unconnected topics delivered in one breath as well as the vast distance between the stage and the audience seating. The design by Jones, consisting of a sandy beach covered by mounds of dirt and rock which contain our characters, not just creates the text’s physical setting of a hot, dry and never-ending sunny day, but is reminiscent of a picture-perfect landscape typically found on holiday postcards, reinforcing the text’s central theme.
To summarize, this rendition of Happy Days is a powerful homage to Beckett’s literary masterpiece, making you reflect on the rose-tinted lens through which we often look at our everyday lives and how it may conceal how we truly feel about our present existence.
Happy Days is running at Riverside Studios W6 9BN till Sunday, 25th July. Learn more and book tickets at https://riversidestudios.co.uk/see-and-do/happy-days-305/
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 20th June 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★