by Samuel Beckett.
Young Vic 66 The Cut SE1 8LZ To 21 March 2015.
Mon–Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7922 2922.
Review: William Russell 21 February.
Happy Days Are Here Again – magnificent, spell-binding.
Winnie, the garrulous woman half-buried in the sand in a desert place with a bag full of bits and pieces to help her while-away the tedious days, more or less ignored by her husband, Willie, lurking somewhere more or less off stage, is arguably the equivalent role for an actress that Lear is for actors – a theatrical peak that must be scaled. Juliet Stevenson did so at the Young Vic to universal acclaim last year and is now back for a second stint facing the indignities, uncertainties, memories that linger, the things half-forgotten that the passing years bring. As she ponders the detritus of her life, she fishes objects from her bag and tries to get the inattentive Willie to come to her aid.
Winnie is many things; actresses from Brenda Bruce, who first played her in England (at the Royal Court, 1962), to Peggy Ashcroft and most recently Fiona Shaw included, have brought various qualities to the role. Stevenson’s Winnie is a raddled, clearly once rather sexy, probably beautiful woman, with her flashy low-cut top and a battered hat suggesting it was once something rather grand.
It is a magnificent, spell-binding performance. The only reservation is its being performed on a thrust stage, which slightly distances Winnie from her audience – there is a long foreground of desert to peer across. The staging also requires Winnie to start concealed behind a rather silly tent that allows Stevenson to take up her positions before it is dismantled.
It is a minor reservation, but the impact of Act Two when we find her deprived of all her bits and pieces, the ominous revolver apart, now up to her neck in the sand, which a proscenium set would allow, is lost. No matter, the sterile desert set is handsome, David Beames lends strong support as the intermittently visible Willie, and Natalie Abrahami’s direction is impeccable.
But it is Stevenson’s hour and she is memorable and moving as Winnie facing up to the fact that death awaits not too far away and longing for one more caress from Willie.
Winnie: Juliet Stevenson.
Willie: David Beames.
Director: Natalie Abrahami.
Design: Vicki Mortimer.
Light: Paule Constable.
Sound: Tom Gibbons.
Movement: Joseph Alford.
Voice: Emma Woodvine.