Nobel Prize Samuel Beckett at Young Vic Theatre in London. Happy Days. 23 January – 22 February 2014. A hilarious mirror of human resilience so potent as when the play was first written in 1961.
Acclaimed stage and screen actor Juliet Stevenson (Truly Madly Deeply, Death and the Maiden, Duet for One) makes her Young Vic debut as Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s existential masterpiece, Happy Days. Directed by Natalie Abrahami (After Miss Julie) this drama is a testament to our uniquely human capacity for hope.
In Happy Days Beckett conceived one of the most memorable opening images in theatre: that of a middle-aged woman buried up to her waist in a great mound of earth. For his heroine, day and night are no more, the hours of waking and sleeping are signified by the ringing of a bell, and so it is that Winnie confronts her existential despair with absurd diversions and distractions, lurches of optimism and fragments of memories. Her dogged efforts to resist hopelessness and despair remain as potent a reminder of human resilience as when the play was first written in 1961.
Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) is one of the towering dramatic talents of the 20th century. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969 and his numerous stage plays include Waiting for Godot, Krapp’s Last Tape, Endgame and Not I. He was a leading figure in The Theatre of the Absurd and his plays often feature characters in a drifting world devoid of meaning. His bleak portrayal of the human experience often throws up pitch black humour, a knowing nod towards the surreal nature of our existence.
Juliet Stevenson is one of the finest actors of her generation, with award-winning roles on stage as well as richly memorable performances on film and television. Juliet joined the RSC in 1978 and quickly ascended from minor roles to leads – her performances as Isabella in Measure for Measure and Cressida in Troilus and Cressida were both Olivier nominated. In 1990 she made her breakthrough in film playing Nina (a part written specifically for her) in Anthony Minghella’s cinematic debut, Truly Madly Deeply, for which she received an Evening Standard British Film Award and a BAFTA nomination. The following year she won an Olivier Award for the role of Paulina in Death and the Maiden at the Royal Court. Juliet’s extensive work in theatre also includes the title role in Yerma (Olivier nomination), the title role in Hedda Gabler, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Katie Mitchell’s production of The Seagull (all National Theatre); Duet for One (Evening Standard and Olivier Award nomination) at the Almeida and in the West End; The Alice Trilogy, The Heretic (Royal Court). She was BAFTA nominated for her performance in Jimmy McGovern’s BBC One drama Accused and for her role in Paula Milne’s The Politician’s Wife on Channel 4. More recently TV audiences will have seen Juliet playing Lady Elm in Abi Morgan’s hit BBC series The Hour.
Natalie Abrahami directed the sold-out hit After Miss Julie at the Young Vic in 2012, and was assistant director to Benedict Andrews on his award-winning production of Three Sisters. She became associate director of the Young Vic in spring 2013 and is the third Genesis Fellow, succeeding Carrie Cracknell, with whom she co-ran the Gate Theatre from 2007-2012. In 2005 she won the James Menzies-Kitchin Trust Award for Young Directors for her staging of Beckett’s Play and Not I at BAC. Her past work in theatre also includes Parallax (Almeida); Yerma, Women in Love, The Kreutzer Sonata, Vanya (Gate); Pericles (Regent’s Park); Guardians (Hightide); The Eleventh Capital (Royal Court); Headlong’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (UK tour).
Happy Days by Samuel Beckett is directed by Natalie Abrahami, with design by Vicki Mortimer, light by Paule Constable and sound by Tom Gibbons. Juliet Stevenson plays Winnie in her Young Vic debut, alongside David Beames as Willie.