It is often said of Beckett's most famous play, Waiting For Godot, that nothing happens, twice. The same accusation could well be aimed at Happy Days. The protagonist is buried in a mound of rubble, what can happen? Yet Winnie's character and struggle is enough alone to hold an audience transfixed.
Two-time Laurence Olivier Award-winner Fiona Shaw is left, for the most part, alone in the middle of the dominating Lyttelton stage, without the ability to move around, yet with the task of holding the attention of a packed auditorium and conveying the inner turmoil of Winnie; always left with a terminal way out of the situation she finds herself in, but also always optimistically trying to find the good in it.
Shaw portrays a fragile Winnie who appears ever more susceptible to the temptation to sing too early or reach for her gun, yet lets the inner strength shine through when the temptation is beaten; a Winnie who desperately needs affirmation from the man she loves, yet rarely gets it – he would much rather be looking at filthy postcards.
Yet amid this struggle there's much warmth and humour, which contrasts with the exquisitely barren set designed by Tom Pye. Concrete, rocks and rubble cover the vast expanse of the Lyttelton stage, creating a picture of desolation, complemented by Jean Kalman's harsh, unforgiving, unflinching lighting that leaves no shadow for Shaw and co-star Tim Potter.
Happy Days is, as a play by Beckett, typically metaphorical and philosophical, and in this production also explores a nuclear holocaust or global warming scenario, yet its touching, unexpected ending is entirely human.
Happy Days is currently participating in Get Into London Theatre (GILT), which is offering reduced price tickets to many of London’s top shows. Click here for more information.