Happy Days

Siobhán McSweeney gives a stellar performance"

Not being familiar with the work of Samuel Beckett I was happy to be heading to the Birmingham REP to see ‘Happy Days’ as it concludes its tour in our fair city.  Firstly, I would like to point out that even though I may not have totally understood the subject matter, as we can all take different things away from this type of show, I thoroughly enjoyed Siobhán McSweeney’s performance as Winnie, she really is a tour de force.

We are greeted with the extremely minimal set of essentially a mound of dirt and wedged in its tip is Winnie (Siobhán McSweeney).  Initially silence permeates from the stage, and it seems a while before we hear (and jump in our seats) at the sound of a ‘Big Ben’ style clock chime.  Slowly, Winnie wakes and starts another day.  Even though the set is extremely minimal, I have to commend set designer Jamie Vartan with the imposing look of this construction.

Winnie starts her day as most of us would by brushing her teeth.  She begins to start emptying her big black bag which is sat next to her on the mound of dirt.  Many usual items are brought out, alongside a most unusual item affectionately known as ‘Brownie’ in the shape of a revolver.  The ramblings of this smartly dressed woman start and she whips out a black fascinator which compliments her outfit of a smart black dress and string of pearls around her neck.  We obviously only ever see the top of half of Winnie as she goes about her day chatting away to her husband Willie (Howard Teale).  

During the performance there are many moments of complete silence which felt powerful.  Winnie’s optimism of another ‘Happy Day’ is mentioned many times throughout.  During the first half we only ever see the back of her husband Willie from a mound located behind Winnie.  I entered the interval wondering whether he was just a figment of her imagination, however by the end of act 2 I had a different idea of what was happening.  Willie let out the odd word, read a few lines from a newspaper, but his presence was at a minimum.

As the curtain rises on Act 2, Winnie is now buried up to her neck with dishevelled hair, but with the fascinator still in place.  Again, the loud clock chimes signal the start of another day, however now Winnie seems less willing, and it takes a lot of energy to wake.  It’s at this point that I believe Winnie to be dead and making her descent into the ground. Her husband, Willie, makes another appearance, this time we see him full on as he crawls around the base of the mound in an attempt to reach Winnie.  This moment is powerful as he puts his all into trying to reach his wife.

As I mentioned at the start of my review, I am not 100% sure whether my interpretation of the story is what Samuel Beckett had in mind, but the power of theatre allows us to make up our own mind and I was happy with my conclusion as I left the theatre.

Whether you know Siobhán McSweeney as Sister Michael from Derry Girls, or as the current host of The Great Pottery Throw Down, if you get the chance to see her perform on stage, please take it.  She is an incredible stage actor, and this show really is a striped bare kind of show that really elevated its leading lady.  I was also extremely pleased that the audience were so respectful of the many moments of silence throughout this show.  It showed how well Siobhán was able to captivate an audience.

This show was reviewed on the 29th June 2023.  Happy Days runs at the Birmingham REP until the 1st July 2023.  Tickets available here: Happy Days | Birmingham Rep (birmingham-rep.co.uk)

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Photo credit: Marcin Lewandowski

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