Happy Days by Samuel Beckett Presented by Olympia Theatre and Landmark Productions photo Patrick Redmond
"No better, no worse, no pain, no change."
In many respects Samuel Beckett's seminal work Happy Days is the perfect play for today. Indeed, many of Beckett's images and lines appear to have been written specifically with lockdown in mind. A woman buried up to her waist, then neck, unable to go anywhere, lives in denial that life offers unending tedium on repeat. A theme that cuts searingly close to the proverbial lockdown bone. Yet if the Olympia Theatre and Landmark Productions offer a play for today, it’s one whose naughty seaside postcard polish looks decidedly out of date.
Design by Jamie Vartan, looking like Dollymount Strand after a deluge, finds Winnie wiling away her days following an angelus like bell dragging her to consciousness every morning. The prayers mightn't be working but Winnie doesn't like to complain. But she's going to anyway, and reminisce, ponder and speculate. Resembling a postcard cartoon of a woman trapped in the sand, and behaving like a gopher, or mole, popping up to speculate on the world, Winnie soon finds there's nothing new under the sun. Her barely present husband, Willie, reinforces her sense of isolation more than easing her life of fleeting joys and lasting woes. Still, happy days!
Directed by Caitríona McLaughlin, Happy Days, aims high but plods ponderously along at a pedestrian pace, never quite finding its rhythm. Visually, an invested Siobhán McSweeney as Winnie, and Marty Rae as Willie, resemble a married couple from an old British seaside postcard. Or a Carry On movie. Or a classic British sitcom. The result often akin to listening to Keeping up Appearances' Hyacinth Bucket trying to dream herself into a reality that simply doesn’t exist, accompanied by her long suffering and selectively deaf husband. An approach which proves limiting rather than liberating, lending little more than a cheeky frame to the sexual undertones. If McKenna endears easily, Winnie often feels emotionally corralled into narrow reflective tones, with momentary emotional outbursts often looking out of place.
Performed live before becoming available online might not have been the wisest move in hindsight, with the experience hardly enhanced by the knowledge of the action happening in real time. Indeed, trying to resolve freezing and other streaming issues detracted considerably. As did the use of fixed cameras recording the event live, tediously rotating the same few angles.
One has to admire any artist, or company, attempting to make work in the current climate, and Landmark and The Olympia Theatre's production of Happy Days is on the money in speaking to COVID and the experience of lockdown. Yet while speaking to Covid, it speaks to little else. Constrained by its pace and framing, there's a sense of so much more here that could have been unearthed. Winnie might like to speak in the old style, but Happy Days gets bogged down in it.
Happy Days by Samuel Beckett, presented by The Olympia Theatre and Landmark Productions, is available online till midnight, Monday, February 1.
For further information visit Olympia Theatre.
Supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media as part of the Pilot Live Performance Support Scheme