Review Roundup: HAPPY DAYS Starring Juliet Stevenson
Michael Coveney of whatsonstage.com writes: This is the entertainment equivalent of All Our Yesterdays and should probably come with a government health warning for the under 60s. The premise of Owen Lewis' tightly organised production is that Ernie, fading away in his hospital bed, is visited by the ghost of Eric, who died on stage in Tewksbury (that wasn't the first time either; Glasgow Empire 1949 anyone?).
Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph writes: Watching Stevenson's mesmerising performance such a description doesn't seem hyperbolic. It is a piece that sounds the emotional depths, while also managing to be funny and touching too. By Beckett's often minimalist standards, it is a substantial work, a two-act piece, lasting two hours including an interval.
Michael Billington of the Guardian writes: In the past I have seen a wide variety of Winnies. Madeleine Renaud and Natasha Parry, performing in French, brought out the inherent musicality of Beckett's text. Rosaleen Linehan and Fiona Shaw, both Irish, highlighted respectively Winnie's suburban practicality and her ironic jauntiness. But what they all had in common was a sense of the character's accelerating decline as she was buried first up to her waist and then her neck in earth. But, while Stevenson certainly shows Winnie's entrapment as the shingle from the vertical cliff of Vicki Mortimer's set descends in a landslip, she reverses the usual pattern by showing the heroine as more desperate in the play's first half than in the second.
Henry Hitchings of the Evening Standard writes: Juliet Stevenson brings grace, poise and a crazed resilience to the incurably optimistic Winnie. The role is as challenging as any in theatre. While Stevenson is not as brittle or playful as others who have taken it on, her performance is deeply intelligent and skilful. Like pretty much every character of Beckett's, Winnie is trapped. She is buried in a mound of scree - at first as far as her waist and later up to her neck. While her arms remain above the surface she can gesticulate, but she can't escape... What's extraordinary, besides Vicki Mortimer's brilliantly constructed design, is how mobile Stevenson seems, despite being almost as static as a performer can be. Her ability to modulate her voice is remarkable and, crucially, she can also make the tiniest gestures appear balletic. But while Natalie Abrahami's production has plenty of fresh ideas - not least avoiding any suggestion that Winnie is Irish - it could be more intimate.
Sarah Hemming of the Financial Times writes: Lear in the storm; Winnie in the sandheap: two of the greatest stage metaphors for the human condition and two of the most challenging roles for an actor. And while Simon Russell Beale takes on Lear at London's National Theatre, here, half a mile away, Juliet Stevenson tackles Winnie. It might seem cruel and unusual punishment from Beckett to bury his performer, rendering her immobile. But he knew that a great actor could find the desperate poignancy in that image and use her craft to make every detail count. And so it is with Stevenson, who brings a resolute breeziness and nimbleness to the part that contrasts heartbreakingly with her predicament.