Happy Days: Siobhán McSweeney brings a youthful exuberance to Beckett’s scorched world

Theatre review: one-night-only live stream of new co-production reflects these times of isolation and uncertainty

Siobhán McSweeney as Winnie in Happy Days by Samuel Beckett, presented by Olympia Theatre and Landmark Productions. Photograph: Patrick Redmond.

Siobhán McSweeney as Winnie in Happy Days by Samuel Beckett, presented by Olympia Theatre and Landmark Productions. Photograph: Patrick Redmond.

 

Happy Days
★★★★☆
Live stream from the Olympia Theatre. Recording available to watch until February 1st

“Another Happy day!” declaims Winnie, the relentlessly optimistic heroine of Samuel Beckett’s 1961 play, which celebrates the curious cognitive dissonance that the human spirit is capable of. Buried up to her waist, then her neck, in rubble, the physical residue of a world in decay, Winnie is a model of resilience for these times of isolation and uncertainty. With the unpredictable responses of her unreliable interlocutor Willie, who lies feet first and for the most part unseen in a cave behind her, she “prattles along”, certain that “something of this is being heard”, that the “certain days” will continue “to go quite by.”

This new co-production from Olympia Theatre and Landmark Productions is also a testament to resilience and fortitude; a one-night-only live stream that still invests excellence in the brief ephemerality of its existence.

Despite its short lifespan, director Caitríona McLaughlin does not cut corners, neither in her deep engagement with the text nor in the physical realisation of Beckett’s scorched world on stage. Jamie Vartan’s set is an expanse of glittering gravel. Its hummocks and mounds stretch into the distance of a merciless blue sky, but, even up close through the unforgiving camera lens, it conceals hidden folds for holding Winnie’s precious Browning gun and a grotto from which Willie can shelter from the sun. Paul Keogan’s lights, meanwhile, take advantage of the camera lens. The flare of his bright beams cleverly catch the silver case of Winnie’s looking glass, which shines like a second sun in her lap; a visual metaphor for the life in the sun, while its unstinting glare upon her bare arms and face signify its destructive powers. A camera close-up makes fun with the magnifying glass too, showing how filmed theatre can add to as well as detract from the experience, which is undeniably at its best live.

As Winnie, Siobhán McSweeney brings a youthful exuberance to Winnie’s hopeful resistance of fate, surrounded by her meagre accessories like the Queen of the Apocalypse. Even back-turned, the slouched sunburned shoulders of Marty Rea present a subtle contrast that keeps us questioning, despite the cyclical inevitability of Beckett’s sparse and circular text, in which “something has appeared to have occurred and yet nothing has occurred, not really”.

Tickets to view Happy Days cost €20. See olympia.ie for details

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