The Royal Exchange, Manchester; Wednesday 30th May, 2018
Winnie and Willie are an odd couple, both seem to be trapped in a strangely one-sided relationship. In the case of Winnie the entrapment is physical: she is buried up to her waist atop a large mound of compacted earth, making her seem like some delinquent mischief-maker from ancient Greek tragedy, cruelly forced to endure a sinister punishment. For Willie though the entrapment seems to be much more emotional: though he’s clearly free to move around the slopes of Winnie’s Mount Happiness he seems to be content to see out his time in the entrance to his tiny little man cave, whilst his wife natters away above.
Winnie isn’t fooling anyone, she talks a lot, mostly about how every day is definitely going to be a happy day but the terms of her physical incarceration are clearly taking their toll, there is no hiding the fact that she is not happy at all. Willie doesn’t say much: he just sleeps a bit, then he reads the newspaper for a short while, before settling down to have another snooze.
Happy Days is a rather strange theatrical experience. On the whole this is a puzzling fantasy, one which asks deep questions about why Winnie is buried on top of Mount Happiness and whether she can ever release herself, or even whether she should? But fantasy then gives way to the furious demands of logical rationality, particularly the question of what part silent Willie has to play in all of this?
One aspect of this performance stands out – Maxine Peake’s delivery as Winnie is outstanding, it has to be because the architecture of this show is entirely dependent on this single performance. As impressive as the delivery is, it doesn’t make up for what is otherwise a rather weak production – this isn’t a particularly bad show but it just doesn’t entertain in a rounded way. Significant parts of the performance literally involve listening to a talking head, pushing the overall experience very dangerously close to the territory of a radio play, or an audio book.
For connoisseurs of fine acting who seeking a performance masterclass, Happy Days is likely to be a big hit. But for those indulging in a slightly more spontaneous and speculative night out at the theatre this may be a little disappointing.
|Visual pleasure||An impressive set with the rotating mound of Winnie’s Mount Happiness dominating the stage. But, overall, there was little to focus on or get excited about, other than to watch a single talking head.||2|
|Auditory pleasure||Almost entirely spoken voice, with little or no musical / sound embellishment. The silence became a little bit too noticeable.||1|
|Architecture & Theme||Happy Days doesn’t really have a flowing plot, the show is entirely dependent on what the lead actress will do in terms of portraying the themes of sadness and loneliness, and also what connections the audience then make with those themes. It almost felt as if too much was left to interpretation.||2|
|Artistic delivery||Effectively a solo performance by Maxine Peake, and an outstanding one at that – the tears and running nose can’t really be faked when you’re buried in a pile of mud with several hundred people watching you.||5|
|Overall impact||Feels a little too much like an industry-insider production, almost as if it is a vehicle for allowing actors to show off their talents. It is by no means a bad show but then it definitely isn’t a night of satisfying entertainment at the theatre.||2|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|