I’m pretty sure that nobody in London would have bought a ticket for Happy Days at the Young Vic thinking that they were going to be listening to 50s music and watching The Fonz. No, amongst theater goers it’s quite famous as the play where the actress spends the performance buried from at least the waist down. It’s a play from the Absurdist period, and, given that it’s a Beckett, its themes are predictable at the start: our impending annihilation, the futility of existence, et cetera. The play can be accused of being about how people attempt to maintain their equilibrium in the face of unavoidable death (or perhaps a big metaphor on the hopeless loneliness of marriage or, more broadly, life), but I don’t want to examine it in that way. It’s certainly more powerful to see a play than just to read it, and this is a fine production (lively, unironic Winnie – Juliet Stevenson) with a truly impressive set (it looked like a slice of a mountain and even had regularly trickling rocks burying Winnie just a tiny bit more while we watched) and painful sound effects (I was tempted to pull in a health and safety inspector as I suspected ear damage might have happened – it really hurt my ears) – and for many of us, it’s a play you want to have on that life list.
But … why bother? I’m not interested in seeing a play just so I can sit around and discuss the symbolism of it all, especially given that this topic has been stamped into the ground long ago. It’s an existentialist museum piece brought to life. The sad thing, though, is that the Absurdism style is still massively relevant and an incredibly powerful theatrical tool when brought out in a vibrant context. When we need to shine a light on the ill doing of the powers that be, you can hardly do it any better than in a theatrical piece that mocks them. But how much safer to watch this gelding than go see the stallion currently prancing at the Bush Theater (Islands, closing this Saturday). If you want to see an animated (but convincingly life like) dinosaur, go see Happy Days, but if you want to see absurdist theater that leaves bruises, you’d be a fool to miss Islands – in fact, I would advise you to abandon Happy Days tickets bought for this weekend, take the loss, and see Islands instead; and if Beckett or Ionesco were around, they’d say the same thing.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 18th, 2015. It continues through March 21st. Ice creams are compulsory at the interval.)