'Happy Days' Pinned Us To The Spot
Siobhán McSweeney and Howard Teale. Photo courtesy of B'ham Rep.
Happy Days by Samuel Beckett, Birmingham Rep Theatre, Birmingham.
Review by Ann Cee: 29 June 2023.
Equipped with little more than a carrier bag and an umbrella, BAFTA winner, Siobhán McSweeney held her audience captive last night with her portrayal of Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s play, Happy Days. For more than two hours, we lived Winnie’s determined struggles to have a ‘Happy Day’ and to smile through her bone aching loneliness as she strives to stay positive and accommodate a husband without an ‘engage’ gene.
Winnie is being buried alive in the unremitting minutia of everyday routine as she lives from morning bell to night bell in a tedious vacuum, where the only break in monotony is the sound of her own voice. Many, living in loneliness in our communities today, will surely relate to Winnie’s plight and longing for connection, conversation and a more colourful future.
Few actors have the timing, nuance and courage to pull off this finely tuned play but Siobhán McSweeney delivered every moment with a beautiful authenticity and compassion for the character that kept Winnie relatable and compelling throughout. Part of McSweeney’s success is no doubt her down to earth warmth and innate musicality, and in this show, her confidence to ‘sit with silence’ to let the tension expand into every corner of the room.
BAFTA winner, Siobhán McSweeney and Howard Teale. Photo courtesy of B'ham Rep.
Winnie’s habitually unresponsive husband, Willie, was played by Howard Teale who has appeared in many television dramas including Eastenders, Waking the Dead and Spooks. Willie was presented with an exquisite, understated simplicity that, whilst comical initially, increasingly appeared to embody one man’s debilitating struggle with his own mental health.
There’s no escaping the darkness in this observational study of characters who have depleted their own coping resources and have only the most fragile of tendrils to cling to. Full credit to Director, Caitríona McLaughlin (Artistic Director of Ireland’s national theatre, The Abbey) for putting this powerful and thought provoking production together and creating an opportunity to turn the mirror towards ourselves and our society today. Credit also for the subtle set (Jamie Vartan), sound (Sinéad Diskin) and lighting (Paul Keogan) – the changing colours and atmospheres of the sand and sky were remarkable.
This is a play and a production of exceptional merit and currency, with themes and delivery that transcend modern culture wars. Stays-with-you-superb as well as uncomfortably unsettling.
Captioned performance tonight 1 July 2023 at 7.30. Tickets and further details: https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/happy-days/