Monday, 12 April 2010

Happy Days / Oh les beaux jours.

Considered Beckett's most cheerful piece, Happy Days features a woman buried up to her waist in a mound of sand. Winnie's husband, Willie, appears only occasionally from his tunnel behind the mound. Winnie's opening words, 'Another heavenly day', set the tone for a long monologue which lasts until she can no longer busy herself with the contents of her enormous handbag. She follows the routine of the day – praying, brushing her teeth, reminiscing about the past and endlessly trying to recall 'unforgettable lines' that she has once read. By the end of the second act she is buried up to her neck, but she carries on chattering cheerfully.

I saw the play performed at the National Arts Centre; it's an apt metaphor for the current tribulations of Helena Guergis, and perhaps for any woman stuck in the unpleasant place where hyper-partisan politics may put her.

Beckett confided to a woman who played the character of Winnie what was going through his mind as he sat down to write the play:

“Well I thought that the most dreadful thing that could happen to anybody, would be not to be allowed to sleep so that just as you’re dropping off there’s be a ‘Dong’ and you’d have to keep awake; you’re sinking into the ground alive and it’s full of ants; and the sun is shining endlessly day and night and there is not a tree … there’s no shade, nothing, and that bell wakes you up all the time and all you’ve got is a little parcel of things to see you through life.” He was talking about a woman’s life, let’s face it. Then he said: “And I thought who would cope with that and go down singing, only a woman.”

In the play only a single egg-carrying ant [...] finds its way into the text but it is a source of amusement for both Winnie and Willie when its appearance causes Willie to utter the word “Formication”

From here. Samuel Beckett finished this work in May 1961, after Maureen Cusack suggested he might write something happy after Krapp.

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