Happy Days (5 stars)

Dundee Rep, until Sat 9 June

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MODERN CLASSIC

For those who haven’t yet noticed, Scottish theatre has, in Dominic Hill of Dundee Rep, a top rate director of classic plays. His track record over his four years on Tayside - from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Howard Barker’s modern classic Scenes From an Execution - is excellent. That reputation will only be enhanced by this fine production of Samuel Beckett’s extraordinary two-hander Happy Days.

For starters, his choice of Alison Peebles to play the central character, Winnie - a woman ‘of about fifty’, who is buried up to her waist and, later, up to her neck - is inspired. The beauty of her performance (in which her Scottish accent proves wonderfully appropriate to Beckett’s poetry) is that she never tips too far towards despair or self-deluding glee. Rather she plays the role as it should be, with a deep and knowing sense of pathos.

Poking through the top of designer Tom Piper’s big, brilliant human anthill, Winnie, in her incongruous party dress, tries to coax her largely hidden husband, Willie, ‘about sixty’, out of his lengthy silences. Her parasol bursts into flames, leaving her unprotected from the blazing sun. Yet, still, she keeps her spirits up, apparently convinced that a brief response from Willie indicates another ‘happy day’. Robert Paterson is also superb in the relatively minor (but by no means straightforward) role of Willie. A desperately broken image of a dapper gent dressed for a good night out, he finally responds to his wife in a moment which is, simultaneously, darkly comic, poignantly painful and curiously hopeful. Piper’s tremendous set contrasts the huge earth mound with a stark, blue theatre wall, splendidly lit by Jeanine Davies. Dan Jones adds a nicely attuned, evocative soundscape. It all makes for a tremendously complete evening of Beckett. (Ben Waters)

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