Home > 20th Century, Beckett Samuel, Irish Literature, Theatre > Happy Days by Samuel Beckett

Happy Days by Samuel Beckett

Happy Days by Samuel Beckett. French title: Oh! Les beaux jours!

Obviously, plays are made to be watched in a theatre. Some can be read but I’ve always thought that the Theatre of the Absurd should be watched. It makes more sense, in a way, with the images. This is why I don’t read Beckett’s plays, I’d rather watch them if I have the chance. So far I’ve seen Endgame and a theatre version of Le Dépeupleur (The Lost Ones). I’m waiting for Godot to come to my city.

So here I was a couple of nights ago, attending Happy Days, very excited to watch Catherine Frot playing Beckett.

In Happy Days, Winnie is trapped up to the waist in a hole in the earth. She can’t move, can’t get out. Her husband Willy lives in a burrow near her. The whole play consists in watching Winnie live her curious life. She wakes up, full of rituals. The spectator feels that she cuts her day into small moments to pass the time, clinging to rituals to keep her sanity. She rejoices in slight happy moments, tries to grasp happiness from any positive event. On a purely rational level, it’s absurd. I watched it on a double channel. On one channel, I was just enjoying the ride, having fun at the comic stemming of the Absurd. On the other channel, I was analyzing, comparing the situation to life in general. There are many serious themes in this play.

Winnie works to find the motivation to keep on living. She tries to remain upbeat, shouts at Willy, claiming his attention. He barely acknowledges her presence, sometimes granting her questions with a grunt but most of the time remaining silent. He never actually talks to her. And she talks, talks, talks. She does it to cheer herself up, to fight despair and loneliness. It raises the inevitable question: how do you go on living when you’re trapped into an uncomfortable situation? In a domineering family, in a loveless marriage, in a mind-numbing job, in poverty? In a life you haven’t chosen? And when you’re ill and there is no cure?

Again, as before in The Tartar Steppe, I thought about Gary’s quest on hope and human strength. What makes us keep on living and fighting for it when it is hopeless or useless? What keeps us standing no matter what? Where do we find the capacity to adapt to terrible situations? The fort in Dino Buzzati’s novel, this hole in that Beckett play, concentration camps in Gary’s quest. Gary sees Hope as the big dope that keeps us standing despite the storm.

Winnie also tries to retain her humanity. She needs to know that Willy is hearing her, not necessarily listening, but at least that he’s within earshot. She couldn’t bear to be alone and have no one to acknowledge her as a human. We need to interact with other people to feel human. Like trumps, she tries to remain clean and part of her ritual is to apply make-up and do her hair. Abandoning that is starting to lose the battle against despair and dehumanisation.

Catherine Frot was Winnie. She looked like a siren ensconced in a huge oyster shell planted in the middle of a desert. Her body is locked in her hole and it restrains her movements. Her mind is still the same but she doesn’t have the same velocity, her body’s possibilities reduced by her condition. Old age, that’s what I thought, the body as a fortress for the mind, as Proust describes it is Le Temps Retrouvé. Your mind remains young and your body fails you.

The décor was fantastic, with great lights. As expected, Catherine Frot was excellent. Her face is really mobile; she can show many emotions with a frown, a lifted eyebrow, a pout. Her diction is perfect, no need to shout to be heard in the distance. I’m happy I had the opportunity to see her in that role and to have her as a middleman to approach Beckett’s work.

  1. June 11, 2012 at 1:52 am

    I’m a Catherine Frot fan as I think you know, and when I saw the photo, I thought, ‘that’s…’. Then I read the rest of the post. Lucky you being able to see this marvellous actress on stage. I agree, her face is perfect for this role.


    • June 11, 2012 at 7:53 pm

      I know you’re a fan. I thought about how much you’d love to see her on stage too. She was excellent.


  2. June 11, 2012 at 9:29 am

    I must admit I prefer reading plays and have read quite a lot for a while.
    I used to have a theater subscription but it’s hit and miss. Out of ten I usually hated 6 which had rarely anything to do with the play.
    It’s another story when you can see an actor or actress you like on stage. I’m sure this was very good. It sounds as if it wasn’t an easy one for the actress.


    • June 11, 2012 at 7:56 pm

      Here, you can choose your plays in your subscription. You have about 20 plays a year and you pick the ones you want to see. Next season is awsome, I guess I’ll post about what I’ll see.

      It’s a difficult play for the actress: it’s almost a monologue and she’s stuck in that hole. She was fantastic.


      • June 11, 2012 at 8:03 pm

        Well, you couldn’t choose it when i had it but you could mix with ballett and opera but I didn’t. I should. I like bot and can relate more. When it comes to theater it has a lot to do with the theater itself. Some stage directors can really kill a play.
        Btw I wanted to tell you I think you write the theater reviews very well. I can imagine it, it’s nice.


        • June 11, 2012 at 8:09 pm

          Perhaps it has changed now. Next season I want to see the theatre version of Hunger and there’s Torreton playing Cyrano. He’s fantastic on stage, I can’t wait to see him in such a role.

          I’m glad you enjoy the theatre billets. I don’t feel that confident about writing about plays. I don’t write about everything I watch, only when I have something to share or if I found the text so powerful that I bought it at the theatre’s book store or if it’s a novel made into a play.


  3. June 11, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    I just saw Endgame and Play here in San Francisco a couple weeks ago, starring Beckett actor Bill Irwin, who takes a rather clownish approach to Beckett that I’ve never fully appreciated. But still, it’s always an event, seeing Beckett performed in the flesh. It’s probably just me getting old (like a Beckett character in an ash can), but this being the first Beckett production I’d seen in more than a decade, I found it oddly dated. That’s not quite right – not dated, but familiar and easily digestible. Anyway, it sounds like you got to see quite a good production (looks like it too, as I found a brief clip of it – along with a short Frot interview – on YouTube).


    • June 11, 2012 at 7:59 pm

      I really think Beckett is easier to watch than to read. Or perhaps I lack imagination when I read plays.

      I’m glad you could find a clip of Oh! Les beaux jours. I like Catherine Frot a lot, a voice, her way to speak. She’s able to act sad and funny at the same time.


  4. June 11, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Fantastic. I wish I had seen it. I wish I had seen it in French, even.

    I have actually seen Beckett in French, in Paris. Luckily, much of it was mime – that part, I could follow pretty well.


    • June 11, 2012 at 9:48 pm

      You’re funny. It was worth it.

      You’ve seen Beckett in French? At least ta femme understood the whole play if you didn’t!
      I saw Macbeth in English (with subtitles). I could understand because I’d read the play before going and because the actors were incredible.


  5. June 12, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    I used to love teaching Beckett. Whilst his situations are absurd they are absolutely spot on when it comes to the truth of human relations – the pulling together and apart that people do, the silly quarrels that arise, the humour and sarcasm and dark wit, the clinging together in the face of the unknown. He’s just a genius at that.


    • June 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm

      I don’t know his work very well.
      Which of his novels would you recommend?


  6. June 15, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    I don’t read plays, for me they’re performance pieces and reading them loses too much. I do wish I’d seen this though.

    The parallels with life generally are striking. In the absence of meaning how do we go on? Do we have a choice but to go on? How do we stave off a sense of futility? Very Beckettian stuff.

    I reviewed Molloy a little while back at mine. While it’s not supposed to be his best by any means I think it is seen as a fairly good entry level Beckett (which is partly why I chose it, and partly chronology it being his first, or at least one of the earliest).

    Sounds like a great production. Thanks for the review.


    • June 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm

      Sometimes it’s good to read the play before seeing them, like when I saw Jarry’s Ubu Chained. I enjoyed the play more than my friend because I wasn’t discovering the text.

      Yes, I left the theatre rather thoughtful and full of questions.

      I remember your review of Molloy, for me Beckett is daunting. I hesitate to start one of his novels.

      It was a great production, Catherine Frot is very good.


  7. June 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    “Although I found almost all of them [the Nouveau Roman writers] extremely boring, with the exception of Samuel Beckett (he was included in the group because he was published by the same house), who also bored me but at the same time gave me the impression that in his case something lay behind all the tedium, I was always well disposed toward them…”

    Mario Vargas Llosa in The Perpetual Orgy: Flaubert and Madame Bovary.


    • June 15, 2012 at 9:05 pm

      Thanks for that. I’m thinking about reading Vargas Llosa for the Spanish Lit month.

      They’re all published by Les Editions de Minuit and as you might have guessed, I tend to avoid books from this publisher…


  1. May 30, 2013 at 9:45 pm

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