Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Happy Days, Malthouse, July 8, 2009 ****

Happy Days  
By Samuel Beckett, Malthouse Theatre
Where and When: Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse,  July 8 to 25, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 8, 2009
Published in Herald Sun, Melbourne

There’s no denying it, Julie Forsyth has exceptional comic delivery and timing, an eccentric style, idiosyncratic, rusty vocal quality and a profound understanding of contemporary theatre. She is close to perfect casting as Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, directed by Michael Kantor. Peter Carroll, as her husband, Willy, is also a masterstroke of casting with his resonant voice and angular, scrawny physique.

Happy Days is a deceptive title for a play that deals with the tragedy of existence in inimitable Beckett style. Forsyth, as Winnie, is buried up to her waist and later up to her neck, in a mound of earth. Willy lives in a hole behind her mound. Despite her horrific, claustrophobic circumstances, Winnie remains relentlessly optimistic. “This is a happy day”, Forsyth trills, “so far.” Winnie has a repertoire of positive epithets. Even in the darkest moments she finds light. “That’s what I find so wonderful,” she cries. “Many mercies”.

Winnie wakes daily, embedded in her mound. To survive the day, she stoically completes simple tasks at specified intervals in “the old style”, dragging each object lovingly out of her oversized, black bag. She cleans her teeth, struggles to read her toothbrush, grooms her hair, puts on her hat, plays her music box, puts up her umbrella and sings her song. Timing is everything. If she waits too long, she may miss her opportunity and the dreadful, grating bell will sound the end of her day.

Winnie finds joy in little things such as Willy speaking to her or appearing in his silly formal get-up after a long, long absence. But her sudden bursts of wrenching sadness are more poignant when set against her fierce positivism. Always available for escape, but never used, is her gun. Perhaps Willy wants to use it on her in the final moments.  Time is painful. Like Winnie, we lose out memories and become incapacitated. Like Willy we lose our speech and crawl toward out graves.

Anna Cordingley’s design fixes Winnie in a monolithic, black mound is like a pile of industrial refuse. This is contrasted with the huge, blue drapes surrounding her like curtains around a royal bed. Paul Jackson’s lighting creates a sculptural landscape, accenting moments in Winnie’s days with shifting colour and pattern. High above Winnie’s head is a giant chandelier-like structure that glints with tiny star-like lights.

Winnie, like we are, is just another speck in the universe.

By Kate Herbert

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