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Juliet Stevenson really does deserve to take a bow at the end of Beckett’s two act existential play which was first performed in 1961, but, buried up to the neck in shifting shale and sandy shingle, there’s no way she’s going anywhere.

In what is virtually a monologue (husband Willie, just out of her line of vision and barely visible to the audience, does little more than grunt in response to her ceaseless prattling), Stevenson’s Winnie is resolutely bright and breezy, an eternal optimist with, unusually, a very English stiff upper lip.

Immobilised from the waist down in the first act, she sets about her day, determined to keep up both her daily routine and her appearance as she reaches into her copious black handbag to retrieve the last of her toothpaste, a comb, her lipstick - even a revolver - under the glare of a relentlessly harsh sun.

Vicki Mortimer’s striking set, an avalanche of inevitability, presages total extinction with ominous, intermittent slides of gravel. The start and end of each day is marked by a shattering alarm.

It’s bound to be a very static play, but Stevenson, with her expressive voice, proves compelling throughout, amusing herself - and us - with her inconsequential wittering as though positivity can shield her from her fate. And her later panic, when she fears Willie (David Beames) can no longer hear her, is heartbreaking in Natalie Abrahami’s absorbing, powerful production.

When: Until March 8, 2014

Where: The Young Vic, The Cut, SE1 8LZ

Click here for more information and to book tickets.


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Theatre: Happy Days
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