Her life in a bag and her head full of thoughts and memories, Winnie just wants to have a happy dayJohannes Hjorth

Happy Days was written by Beckett’s own admission as a happier follow up to Krapp’s Last Tape, a play bleak even by the standards of a playwright who constantly likes to remind us of our own imminent deaths. Like most of Beckett’s plays, the minimalism creates a dependency on the actors and actresses, or actor and actress in this case, to represent their disillusionment effectively whilst still maintaining the capacity for humour. It also means that when evaluating the set and atmosphere created by director, small details will come under scrutiny.

The set was incredibly well-crafted, although the gap in the ‘sand’ which allowed us to see Willie’s movements diminished some of the existential uncertainty which defines absurdist theatre.

Although the lighting during the only scene transition damaged the dramatic illusion which was so powerfully maintained throughout, the lighting at the end, which focused solely on the floating head of Winnie, completing her metaphorical ‘sink’ before blacking out, was visually spectacular and also thematically germane. Julia Kass and Elliott Wright did not bow at the end which completed the eeriness and poignancy of the conclusion, offsetting the preceding love song, which was sung beautifully by Kass.  

A recent Varsity article by Rhiannon Shaw entitled ‘Feminising Theatre’ has been sweetly confounded this week. While headlines have been on Othello and Iago being portrayed by women, the role of Winnie in Happy Days has been largely unnoticed. Dame Peggy Ashcroft described it as “one of those parts, I believe, that actresses will want to play in the way that actors aim at Hamlet – a 'summit' part.” As aforementioned, this show was dependent on the cast, and Kass’ virtuoso performance did not disappoint. She engaged the audience from start to finish as she finely manoeuvred the line between joy and despair, with the transition never feeling forced.  Her expressiveness and vitality were matched only by solemn pleas to her husband. It was almost as if we could see the glimmer of despair behind her façade of optimism. Willie (portrayed by Wright) was the "castrated male swine"; one of the few lines he has in the play. The little which he had to do was well done, particularly the physical theatre of his movements towards the finale, highlighting his fragility. 

To my delight, this play is the first of three Beckett helpings this term (Endgame in week 7 and Waiting for Godot during May Week). If they all live up to this, “Oh this is a happy day.”