Theatre: Happy Days

The first thing you notice when walking into the Lyttelton of this production of Happy Days at the National Theatre is that where there should be a stage there is a huge mound of dirt and a surrounding desertscape. The set is lit by such bright lights that the little old ladies in the row in front were covering their eyes for the first half hour of the production. It was a pity that the ushers didn't offer sunglasses out of a large black handbags. It could have easily been in keeping with the mood of the show...

I get the impression Happy Days by Samuel Beckett is the play that is trotted out every now and then to get a great actress to strut her stuff on stage. This time it is Fiona Shaw's turn and she was great to watch as Winnie, the middle-class housewife who has minor worries in life, but is always concerned about whether it will be a happy day. All the time in the first act, she is up to her waist in a mound of dirt. In the second act she is up to her neck in dirt. I have to admit my mind tended to wander a bit as I kept thinking, how does Fiona manage to act surrounded by all that dust??

Still, it was helpful having a discussion earlier today about the play with a colleague who studied it as part of her A levels... That whole mound of dirt thing could have been a little unexpected. Then again, you probably can't be too ready for seeing the mound of dirt on such grand scale. Director Deborah Warner (whose last production I saw was the equally large scale production of Julius Ceasar at the Barbican) obviously doesn't do small scale.

At the end of first act as if a nod to some of us postmodern to confuse our Beckett for our sitcoms, the theme tune from Happy Days played us out to the bar. These days are ours indeed...

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