Happy Days - reviews of Beckett revival at Young Vic

Feb 3, 2014

Juliet Stevenson wows critics as a cheery chatterbox in Beckett's surreal classic about marriage and death

Johan Persson
What you need to know

Critics are praising Juliet Stevenson's "mesmerising" performance in a revival of Samuel Beckett's absurdist classic Happy Days at the Young Vic Theatre. Stevenson (Truly Madly Deeply, Death and the Maiden) stars as Winnie in Beckett's 1960 surreal two-hander, directed by Natalie Abrahami.

The play focuses on the relentlessly cheery chatterbox Winnie, a woman trapped - literally buried up to her waist, then her neck, in sand - in a sterile marriage to a detached husband. Winnie desperately tries to remain hopeful as the world closes in around her. Runs until 8 March.

What the critics like

Juliet Stevenson gives a "mesmerising performance" in a play that sounds the emotional depths, while also managing to be funny and touching too, says Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph. Stevenson and her director Natalie Abrahami make every very word count, in this peculiar yet deeply compassionate play with extraordinary power and resonance.

Stevenson imbues her half-buried heroine Winnie with "wit, warmth and a desperate vitality", says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. This demanding near-monologue is a delicious parody of mortality and Stevenson and Abrahami have mixed the tragic with the comic beautifully.

Stevenson mesmerises as Winnie in this "towering masterpiece of a play", says David Nice on the Arts Desk. She sets a tragic-heroic benchmark and every moment of her perfectly modulated near-monologue is authentic, and from despair to optimism, anger to comedy.

What they don't like

Critics have very little negative to say about the production. While Maxwell admits Beckett's "two hours of existential despair" mean Happy Days is not an easy play, he adds, "Stevenson ensures this is an evening to cherish".

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Critics might have 'very little negative to say about the production' but perhaps they got favoured seats. In the stalls, from one side of the stage you can't see the other side. If you're sitting on Winnie's left the chances are the only thing you'll see of Willie and his accoutrements is the very top of a hat. I am aware that Willie isn't a very active character but to arrange things so that large parts of the audience can see nothing on his side of the stage is appalling. After all, in order to see that he doesn't do much you first have to be able to see.