Wednesday 29 January 2014

Theatre review: Happy Days

I really should learn that if I've imposed a rule on myself it's probably for a good reason, and I should just follow it. But no, it's Juliet Stevenson starring, I thought, it's Natalie Abrahami directing, I thought, it's at the Young Vic, who've built themselves an identity of staging classics in exciting, dramatic new ways, I thought. Of course, the latter point is meaningless - reinterpretation was never on the cards with a writer whose estate is notorious for forbidding it, and regularly refuses performance rights to any production that deviates even slightly from the script. The writer is, of course, Samuel Beckett. The play is Happy Days, in which Stevenson plays the Fonz Winnie, buried up to her waist in sand, loud screams of static alerting her to when she must sleep and when wake up. But she chatters away cheerfully to her husband (David Beames,) who's scrabbling around in a hole in the ground nearby.

As theatres regularly brave the Beckett estate to stage his work, there must obviously still be a lot of love for it out there, but not from me. The precise poetry of his writing leaves me cold. On the page, paradoxically, I've had moments of enjoying picking apart the layers of symbolism in its language. But that's not how theatre works, at least not for me - you don't have time to go back and analyse the cleverness hidden in the last line when the next one is hot on its heels, so all I hear is a tedious recitation of the words on the surface.

Winnie fills her day with routine, packing and unpacking objects from her large handbag. Happy Days says things about people focusing on little details and ignoring the bigger problems staring them in the face, like being buried up to the waist and eventually up to the neck in sand. It says these things slowly, and a lot. I entertained myself by looking around at the audience, of which there was about 10% less after the interval. I think the woman from Vic and Bob's House of Fools was sitting opposite me. Every so often I'd remember to look back at Vicki Mortimer's impressive set of a rockfall, on which half of Juliet Stevenson was acting her cotton socks off. It's a brilliant performance, utterly wasted as far as I'm concerned.

Happy Days by Samuel Beckett is booking until the 8th of March at the Young Vic.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes including interval.

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