Last week I went to see Happy Days by Samuel Beckett at the Young Vic. It starred Juliet Stevenson and was directed by Natalie Abrahami.
I have to admit this wasn’t really my kind of play. I can absolutely see why others enjoy it, not least because the role is an absolute feat for any actress – I was exhausted just watching and couldn’t believe Stevenson could do this for 7 shows per week! Also the language itself follows an unusual rhythm, not unlike Molly Blooms soliloquy in Ulysees, and it’s always interesting to see how a director/actress tackles such dense monologue whilst also exploring how to interpret the physically demanding stage directions.
I went into the play having never studied it. All I knew was that the lead character is buried up to the waist (and later) neck and that there was a (often silent) off stage male character. I did know this was predominantly a monologue so I wasn’t expecting too much action on stage, in fact I was probably most excited to see how they were going to realistically bury someone up to the neck in a pile of rubble!
Watching it I understood how when this play was first performed (1963) it must have felt quit revolutionary in the way it explored relationships between women and men, how marriage can gradually suffocate us, and the affect that ageing has on a woman amongst other things. I do believe these themes are still very important and relevant, however the way in which they are presented in this play feels very dated. That is not to say if something that is ‘dated’ it cannot not still be enjoyable and inform us about a time that is different to ours, but for me, in this particular case I was wishing for something to happen that would ‘surprise’ me, or that would at least make make me feel anything but slight boredom. I’m aware that many won’t feel the same but this is just personal opinion! I came out of it feeling quite drained, and not in an good way – rather after the first fifteen minutes I realised this wasn’t for me but felt obliged to see it through to the end before passing proper judgement.
I wondered if there would be any way one could stage this play in order to make it more relevant? I don’t mean adding in a gimmick or changing the language, but is there a way that a play about a woman’s struggle within her marriage and her struggle to find a sense of self in a world where she seemingly doesn’t matter could be transferred to a modern day setting? A setting that might offer the audience a few more surprises perhaps? It’s something to think about…!