Blue Raincoat, one of Ireland's most celebrated theatre companies, and the only full-time ensemble are delighted to present “Happy Days” by Samuel Beckett at The Town Hall Theatre on Tuesday February 21 as part of a national tour.
Classically ambiguous, Beckett's Happy Days tells the story of Winnie, a woman in her 50s, buried waist-deep in the centre of a mound of scorched earth, with little else around other than a large black bag and a collapsed parasol. Behind her and hidden from view sleeps Willie. A piercing bell rings, stops, rings again, and Winnie wakes and looks at the sky.
We sat down with Sandra O'Malley, long time member of the Blue Raincoat Theatre Company and lead of the play, to find out more about the joys and challenges of interpreting Beckett.
Could you tell me a little bit about the play?
There are are two characters. I play Winnie. We find Winnie in the first act of the play up to her waist in a mound. In the second act, she is up to her neck in the mound. We have Willie then, who's her husband. He lives in a little hole just to the right of Winnie. He does a lot of sleeping! Winnie, despite her circumstances, is just trying to get on with her day. She's got her handbag with her. Before she's up to her neck, she just gets on with things, brushes her teeth, puts on her lippy, nothing too out of the ordinary. She notices things are running out for her but she doesn't dwell on her circumstances. It starts to get on top of her though, it encroaches slowly.
Beckett wrote it in a fragmented way to show that time has passed on. Winnie is a chatter, so we hear her bubbling away, trying to lift her own spirits and stay positive in the face of adversity. Being human she is also of course feeling vulnerable and fragile in the situation, but ultimately she is trying to survive.
Is it about resilience?
In a way, yes. It's a case of finding whatever tools you have to keep going forward and not fall off the edge of the world.
I think it's the story of life in a way - life leading to death, and what we do in the interim. We tend to say things like, 'I'm up to my neck' or 'I'm up to my eyes' to communicate stress. And yet we always find a way to just get on with it as human beings.
What is it like to interpret Beckett as an actor in his plays?
It's certainly a big challenge. I've I've done a couple of Beckett plays in the past (including Endgame ) and unlike a lot of people I'm actually a fan of Beckett for some reason. I think I just kind of get him. His work doesn't depress me. I don't know whether it's my age or whatever it is but it's a nice place to have arrived at, being able to play somebody like Winnie. It's a complex piece of work, and very technical too. It's demanding physically as well. I do feel however that it will be very rewarding in the end.
I don't have a PhD in Beckett by any stretch of the imagination, but I know the work well. I read Happy Days out loud which allowed me to feel it, and helped me to understand and relate to some of the ideas quicker - there's all that stuff about the futility of life and in a sense, what's the point - all of that stuff. I could do with another lifetime just to go off somewhere into the woods for a couple of years and really investigate Beckett's work because I'd have to be on my own. I'd probably get too scared thought and would have to return to society again fairly quickly!
You have worked with the Blue Raincoat Theatre Company for the last few years, is that right?
I have indeed - I met Niall Henry in 1991. I initially worked on the production side of the company and then I went off and trained, particularly in the technique of training the body as an actor and an instrument. I came back then from my training in Paris and London, and have acted with the company since 1997.
So the play will be in Galway on Tuesday February 21?
Yes, we will be in the Town Hall on Tuesday February 21. We're really looking forward to bringing Happy Days around Ireland and we're of course very excited to be back performing in Galway.
Happy Days is on in the Town Hall Theatre on Tuesday February 21 at 8pm.
Get your tickets here: www.tht.ie/3935/happy-days-by-samuel-beckett