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Review - A dark look at Beckett’s Happy Days

Photos by Rob Maccoll: Carol Burns as Winnie and Steven Tandy as Willie.

Happy Days

By Samuel Beckett

Directed by Wesley Enoch

Queensland Theatre Company

The Greenhouse

Montague Road

South Brisbane

Season: July 18-August 15. Running time 110 minute including interval/ Bookings: 1800 355 528 or

I could watch Carol Burns could paint a fence and enjoy the experience. She is such a great character creator she could make anything work. So it was with the monumental task of playing Winnie in this Beckett absurdist piece.

She speaks a 90 minute monologue buried from the waist down in Act One and up to her neck in Act Two with occasional interruption from seldom seen or heard husband Willie.

Winnie is an ageing, probably pre-dementia woman trapped in all senses of the word, physically and with a husband who no longer lives in her isolated world. Her day is governed by the alarm which tells her when it is time to sleep and time to wake – and she talks through the day with rivers of inconsequential chatter. She dips into her only possession the bag that sits close by and shows us how time is running out: the empty toothpaste tube, the worn out brush, her nostalgically flowered hat, and a gun.

We see her emotions from irritation, acceptance despair, memory loss, and bright smiles of pretend happiness - “today is going to be a happy day” - as she desperately copes with her never-ending immobility. We sense she is near the end of her life, and yet is not ready to accept it. Carol Burns, using little more than her face and eyes shows us the soul of this poor creature.

And with little more than the sight of a mildly bloody head, Steven Tandy as Willie, who is hidden behind the rocks that are slowly devouring Winnie, is a powerful presence. His occasional barked utterances added a tremendous amount to the production and when we see him in the second act, the dying man intent on climbing the rock to get to Winnie, it is a very poignant moment that is open to all sorts of interpretations.

Is he desperately trying to obey Winnie’s pleas and orders to come and see her, or has he finally become so sick of her constant inane chatter and bullying that he is going to use the gun with his dying breath? There was so much to argue about and all the aspects divided the audience.

There was no argument about the stars and the director: it was plaudits all round. But the play itself left people either bored and baffled or raving about Beckett’s style of writing.

A number left at interval shaking their heads in bemusement after a long hour of constant chatter and very few laugh. I was glad to see the curtain close on the act myself, but the 25 minute second act drew me in with its edgy darkness and impending doom.

Penny Challon’s set was something special. It was intriguing and unique. The curtain was a huge painting sitting in a massive gilt frame and the rocks that enveloped Winnie, along with the harsh lighting design from Ben Hughes really created a very arid scene.

Beckett is a bit like Hollywood’s Woody Allen: some people consider him a comic genius others just don’t get him. I don’t get Beckett, never have, and after seeing Happy Days for the first time probably never will.

But then, I don’t like Woody Allen either.

After party pictures by Deanne Scott:

Carol Burns, Steven Tandy and QTC Executive Director Sue Donnelly

A happy Carol Burns

A round of applause for Steven Tandy’s sister Robyn O'Hearn Maciejewski (centre)

Jason Klarwein and Leigh Buchannan

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