Samuel Beckett's Happy days is a play revolving around Winnie, a woman in her 50’s. In Act 1 she is trapped to the waist in a mound, we then find her trapped up to her neck in Act 2. She is alone most of her time despite her partner Willie buried behind her in a hole. This middle age couple, who in some ways are very static with their relationship, are wholly committed to each other. The play is layered with subtext and emotion. It could be set in a kitchen or a living room and it would have the same relatable effect.
The set is comprised of a rotating mound centre stage which holds the two characters. Winnie is abruptly awoken in the morning by a loud ringing sound. She then catalogues items from her bag one by one digressing into reflections on language and meaning. The distortion of the body goes from physical to metaphorical, heads float, mouths utter words. This style is typical of Beckett, the imagery he creates within the play, bodies in pain, immobilised, paralysed, trapped is powerfully moving. But there are also moments of happiness within the ordinariness. The play looks at the positives of being in a long term relationship. It celebrates little details, like a simple acknowledgement of being heard.
Maxine Peak is a breath of fresh air and such a precious talent. She carries the show from start to finish and embodies the character of Winnie beautifully. Although the situation of her character is not ideal, she takes pride in her appearance and appreciates every moment, every sound, every breath. She is truly transfixing as Winnie, and although we are sure she cannot move or go any where, we have no idea what she is going to do or say next.
The play is a surrealist, naturalistic, existential piece of theatre. The couple who are completely opposite but somehow they work. It takes an ordinary couple in an ordinary situation and visually distorts it. A stylised piece that leaves you hanging on to every single word.
Written by Rebecca Phillipson