By Samuel Beckett
Maxine Peake does Samuel Beckett: you would go and see that, now, wouldn’t you?
It is a curious contrivance, Beckett’s creature, with Minnie (Maxine Peake) atop a slowly riotating mound of earth, possessing moreover its own moat, where she speaks to herself mostly, while occasionally making conversation (or trying to, the spark rarely ignites) with her slothlike, irresolute (will he?) hubby Willie (David Crellin).
As with Beckett’s other plays, there are various ways to understand and approach this one. Are we in a post-apocalyptic world or is this a mordant portrait of the fag end of a barren marriage? Or perhaps you could say that the play presents a more general account of the relationship between man and woman.
Any roads, our Minnie is central to Happy Days. She speaks most, Willie more often than not her foil. Most of the weight of the play therefore falls on Peake’s shoulders, and you have to concede that she carries it off superbly. She can be bright and chatty, she can do bleak too. And while there are some laughs here, best expect a ten-ton truck unveiling of sorrow. A shoveling of the weight of one woman’s world, here toxic landfill it looks like, spade by spade.
What I missed in the play – and whether this is a deficiency in Beckett or a consequence of the power of his vision, I am not sure – was any sense of an horizon, a world beyond, hinterland, unseen multitudes. There were just these two people, alone, crushed by immediate circumstance. A woman’s lone burden of sorrow, disappointment and pain. Sterile earth. Visceral despair.
Happy Days is showing at the Royal Exchange until 23 June, further details can be found here.