Review: Happy Days

Grace Murray 21 May 2015

This poignant production of Beckett’s tragicomedy allows for a "happy" evening at the theatre.

The play centres on the monologue focus of half-buried Winnie and is brilliantly enacted by Julia Kass as she brings to life her quintessentially simple desire for a “happy day” whilst having to deal with laconic, difficult and uncommunicative husband Willie. Kass maintains an upbeat character and upholds an optimistic comic atmosphere, but her inescapable loneliness and inevitable loss was brilliantly brought to life.

Yet an overarching sense of pessimism does dominate the play and can be debated to cause a sense of isolation and loneliness not only for the characters but also for the audience. Despite the sympathy that Kass evokes for Winnie's character, enabling spectator interiority into the performance, one cannot help but feel an underlying detachment from the play as a whole. We are always left feeling a sense of incompletion, anticipating some explicit action or significant event as we wait for the appearance of Willie.

Ultimately this final appearance of Willie was not disappointing. Willie’s contrary characterisation was a phenomenal piece of physical theatre as Elliott Wright brilliantly conveyed the sense of self-isolation and despair, despite lack of words to back-up or enhance his acting. For one not expecting a monologue-based, single-scene-structure performance, the lack of effects and direct drama could be a potentially disappointment but the simplicity of the structure, scene and overall piece enabled a focus on Beckett’s language.

As well as clever characterisation, staging was used very effectively. Moreover, use of sound and light indicated the passing of time, splitting the performance into two days, and establish temporality that gave a sense of structure to the performance. The waking and sleeping bells, dimmed and bright lighting instigated morning and evening and enlightened the audience to the passing of time, despite the ongoing focus of a single monologue voice.

Overall, this simply-structured, singularly-staged, individual-protagonist-centred play was successfully staged and emotionally enacted. Thus, despite questions about the lack of tension, the phenomenal characterisation, manipulation of set, lighting and sound served to enhance and produce an empathetic and moving performance of Beckett’s tragi-comedy.


Happy Days plays at the ADC at 11pm until Saturday. Tickets are available here.